Unexpected Audience Involvement

              We all know the challenge of keeping an audience awake and alert as we speak. But what happens when the audience becomes involved when you don’t expect it?  Here are suggestions for when it happens plus ideas on how to manage that unanticipated situation.

               This happens rarely and we are thrilled when it happens. You tell a story that is humorous. You expect some smiles and chuckles, but an audience member laughs loudly and in fact responds very vocally when you relate other examples. A benefit that you should love is that this usually influences others to show more vocal reactions. Use this energy in your speaking style. Show more positive facial expression. Pause longer between ideas, anticipating more nonverbal response. Make specific eye contact with that section of the audience and you will see this attitude spread to other sections of the room. Embrace the extra laughter, smiles, and chuckles. Your presentation will have more impact because of this enthusiastic audience member who loves your humor.

              Sometimes I can’t think of the word I want to use. Don’t be embarrassed about a mental block. Pause and ask the audience to help you find the right word. If you encourage the audience with a pause and an expectant smile, you will have suggestions from the group and they may choose a word that may be better than the word you were looking for. Even if the word you are looking for is not said, thank each person who had a suggestion.

              It is important to have the correct pronunciation of common words, but even more important are correct pronunciations of proper nouns—especially those connected to the audience. Of course you must know the correct pronunciation of people you mention, but it is also easy to offend an audience if you mispronounce the name of a building or street or even the city where you are speaking. For example, a well-traveled street in our city is Reading Road. You would think the pronunciation would be “reading” as in reading a book, but the correct pronunciation is “redding,” as in Reading, Pennsylvania. If you make this mistake, you could easily have someone in the audience to speak the accepted pronunciation. If that situation arises, smile and thank the person for giving you the correct pronunciation and move on. This unexpected reaction from an audience member will encourage you to do more research before your next presentation with possible words you might use. Who would guess you’d need to discover the pronunciation of such an ordinary word?

              Finally, you lose your place, or you need a drink of water; for some reason, you have a break in your speech. Ask a person in the audience that you know will have an example of what you are talking and encourage that person to share that with the group while you make needed adjustments. This has to be someone who you are confident will be able to jump in with a relevant piece. This change of pace may even encourage audience members to listen more carefully.

              I think one of the fun parts of delivering a speech is you never know what to expect. Even though you may basically deliver the same speech, you have a different audience and their unexpected involvement can add to your content as well as make the presentation more enjoyable to both the speaker and the audience.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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