Three Ways for a Public Speaker to Turn Off the Audience

It’s hard as a public speaker to gain an audience’s rapt attention and respect. It’s even more difficult to get them to truly embrace the ideas you are communicating. Successful public speaking requires skill, planning and great execution. If all of these components are working, one can deliver a winning speech.

Unfortunately, it is far more easy to do damage to one’s presentation than it is to create or repair it. Simple missteps can immediately turn an audience off. In more egregious situations, an error can actually turn an audience against a speaker. As such, it is important for anyone considering a public speaking engagement to be aware of some potential pitfalls that can instantly undo a great deal of work.

One way that audiences are alienated quickly is by a speaker who seems to lack humility. Certainly, there are some boastful speakers that are still enjoyable and entertaining. However, these speakers are usually among the finest talents and often have an exceptional level of charisma that allow them to overcome their self-importance. The rest of us need to be aware that audiences generally do not care to listen to someone who seems to be a braggart. One should attempt not to overemphasize their credentials. They should also be mindful of the need to develop concepts and main points without frequently returning to personal anecdotes or examples. Personalizing a presentation is great. Making a speech into an “all about me” affair, however, is disastrous.

Another way of quickly creating antipathy in an audience is by using stories or jokes that can be considered offensive by audience members. Even those who are not personally offended by a remark can recognize that the comment is potentially offensive to others and they may react negatively to the speaker as a result. Although some bemoan so-called “political correctness,” avoiding offending others is simply a very pragmatic strategy when speaking in public. There is very little potential gain to a borderline joke or comment. Meanwhile there is a significant chance to experience a loss of audience respect and attention.

Flippancy can also make an audience frustrated with a speaker. Often, public speaking involves the statement and defense of a viewpoint. In order to make a case, one must often discuss the position of those with whom he or she disagrees. In doing so, the wise public speaker will address the alternative perspective in a respectful manner. When speakers begin to discount the views of others, they begin to look condescending and rude – both of which are attributes that can serve as a surefire way of alienating an audience. A disrespectful speaker may win some cheap applause when “preaching to the choir,” but if the audience is not completely comprised of those with whom the speaker agrees, there is no reason not to be mindful of one’s manners even in persuasive speaking situations.

Public speakers can also anger an audience by not showing them adequate respect. This can be as simple as speaking too long, or being disorganized in one’s presentation. There is an unspoken social contract at play during public speaking events. The audience agrees to listen to the speaker and the speaker agrees to speak with the audience in mind. If either side breaks this silent agreement, things can go poorly. Thus, it is incumbent on the speaker to keep his audience and their needs in mind. Speeches should be carefully organized to make sure they resonate sensibly. Time limits should be adhered to if available. If not, the speaker should make sure he does not stretch the crowd beyond its ability to concentrate. One must also make an effort to really communicate with the audience. Those speakers who are obviously just “dialing in” their performances are never appreciated.

By recognizing these potential problems, a good public speaker can make sure his or her presentation will not suffer from any of these damning errors. Writing and delivering a great public speech requires a great deal of preparation and effort and having it undermined by one simple error would be devastating.

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