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Love Your Audience!


Several years ago, I directed a community theater production of The Wizard of Oz.  During the weeks of rehearsals, I directed from the seats where the audience would eventually sit.  When the performances actually started, I watched from the back of the room behind the audience.  Only this time, I wasn’t watching the action on stage.  I was watching the audience’s reactions.

One night, during intermission, I was back stage with the cast and several were commenting that it was a “dead” crowd.  They weren’t laughing or applauding very loudly.  “Oh,” I replied excitedly, “But you don’t see what I see from the back of the theater.  Watching from the back, I can see the smiles on their faces!  I could see the shoulders shake with laughter!  Trust me, this audience was clearly enjoying themselves!”

In this community theater, it’s our tradition for the cast to greet the audience after the show.  Sure enough, when the audience went to say “hello” to the cast, they were gushing with compliments about how much they enjoyed the show.  The audience had plenty of love to give the cast, even if they cast couldn’t hear it from on stage.

I Love Audiences

Audiences for presentations are great too.  Obviously.  Without them, there would be no public speaking now would there?!

But one of the truly wonderful aspects of an audiences is they are made up of smart people that can make our presentations even better.  Let’s face it, no one person is going to be smarter than a collective group.  The question is… can we find ways to harness the brilliance that’s in our audience.

Below are a few ways I can think of.  But believe me, at the end of this post, I want to practice what I preach and hear what you have to say!

Audience as Content Drivers

I love to ask the audience, “What were you hoping to get out of this time together?  What subjects do you want us to cover?”  It’s great for me because it helps me make sure that I’m covering the topics that they’re hoping to hear about.  It’s great for the audience because they get a chance to interact and ask for what they want.  If one or two topics are listed that I know I won’t be addressing, then I have options.  I can add it to the discussion.  I can let them know up front so they won’t be too disappointed.  I can let them know about other resources they can use to get those questions answered.  Or I can offer to follow up after the session to discuss those topics I won’t be covering during the program.  Then I like to leave a few minutes at the end to review the list to make sure I’ve addressed all the questions, pick up on anything I missed, and check back to make sure that they’ve received what they came for.  Audiences really seem to appreciate that extra effort.

Audience Wisdom Through the Question and Answer Period

I was conducting a webinar a few days ago and was tweeted some great questions that to me were more content areas that I needed to explore and cover in future sessions.  I remember one question in particular asking if I used audience Twitter interaction for anything other than to get questions from the audience.  I really hadn’t thought about it before, but then I started thinking of different things to use Twitter as a conduit for – such as asking the audience what they hoped we would cover during the program!  No matter our knowledge level on a subject, we can keep learning and the curious questions of our audiences can spark new ideas to keep us on the learning and growing path!

Asking the Audience, “What Have You Seen?”

We all get questions that stump us.  Sometimes it’s because the synapses aren’t firing.  Other times, it because we plain don’t know.  When I get stuck without an answer, I love to open the questions up to the people in the room and say, “I don’t know.  What’s been your experience?”  Often times I’ll hear something more brilliant than what I could have come up with.  Many times, the answers I hear spark off a brain wave that gives me an answer.  Either way, both the audience and I win by getting those extra pearls of wisdom.

Audiences Tweeting Their Thoughts

Now that I was pushed by one of my brilliant audience members to consider interacting with my audience in other ways than just questions, I’m dying to try engaging an audience in directing the discussing using the program hashtag.   I’m working on the meeting planner for an upcoming conference presentation I’ve got later this month to see if she’ll let me play!  (Wish me luck!)

The other value of audiences tweeting during the presentation is that you can see how the audience is receiving your message.  Is the information coming across as you intended?  Or is it being misunderstood?  Are the things that you thought were important resonating with the audience?  Or does what resonates come from an unexpected part of your material?  Being able to see what the audience thinks while you speak is a great value!  Twitter is a great resource to help you do just that!

What Else?

What are other ways that you can give love to your audience so that you get love back?  What ways have you tapped into your audience’s brilliance?

Add your approaches to the comments section!!