Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public Speaking - I Could Do Without Some Emotional Audiences

You may present to audiences that have very negative emotions already piqued. They may be downright hostile. When this is the case, you need to say things that will reduce the emotional intensity.

I don't often face hostile audiences, but a friend of mine is an expert on them. Larry Tracy trains business executives to communicate successfully with skeptical and even hostile audiences. Larry's expertise comes from hard-won experience. In a previous life in government, he had the job of speaking to hundreds of emotional, demanding audiences in the 1980s to defend and debate the Reagan Administration's Central America policy.

Larry tells me that hostile audiences have a great deal of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a tendency to protect existing beliefs and prejudices and reject contradictory information. He says this emotional baggage has to be bypassed before a speaker's facts can be comprehended, and that only a speaker perceived to have empathy has a chance of reaching such an audience. Larry trains his clients to follow what he calls the KAP method Know your audience's concerns, and Anticipate their objections and questions with realistic Practice. The practice consists of a simulated presentation with colleagues role-playing as the more contentious audience members.

Larry says that speakers confronted with an angry audience should think of themselves as a thermometer, always attempting to keep the heat down. A calm voice and use of phrases such as I understand your point and I certainly see where you are coming from, as well as open body language can help cool down emotionally-charged audience members. He adds that speakers should never appear dogmatic. They should never tell an audience that they are going to persuade them or show them where they are wrong. Above all, speakers should never become embroiled in a shouting match with audience members.

He says the key to getting hostile audience members to change their view is a thorough pre-presentation analysis of why the audience has invested so much emotional capital opposing the issue. This analysis may show that audience members have been previously misinformed and speakers, after showing they are reasonable, credible, and open-minded can then provide new data, allowing audience members a face-saving means to change their mind.

The handbook of professional public speaking: Available now!

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