I talked to a speaker recently who was contemplating taking a speaking job where he would have to fly ‘cross country, would make very little money, was asked to do a keynote and a breakout, for a boring conference in a boring city, in the dead of winter.

I said, “maybe you shouldn’t do it”. “But I really need the money”, he said.

It reminded me of the days I used to do casting for actors. I mostly worked on low budget films. Some of them were very low budget. I happen to love the world of B movies, but we would always get actors who auditioned for us because they were either just getting started as an actor, weren’t getting any roles in big films, had their TV show canceled, were running out of unemployment, or worse.

I could tell they really didn’t want to be there, and would rather be at Cannes promoting their lead role in a studio film rather than auditioning in a dingy theater rental space for “Beach Bunny Zombies, Part 6”.

And then there were the actors who just wanted to work. It didn’t matter if it was a B movie, a bit part on a TV show, or a medical industrial film. They were happy to be getting paid money for doing something they loved to do.

Public speaking isn’t that different from acting. You’re on a stage communicating to an audience. And that audience can tell if you really don’t want to be there. No matter how hard you try to hide it, there’s just something the audience will pick up on that they may not quite be able to put their finger on. And it’s hard to get them to like you if they suspect you would rather be somewhere else.

Whenever I catch myself copping an attitude about a speaking job that’s not as good as I’d like it to be, I remind myself of my grandmother, slaving away in a dirty, noisy factory her whole life, making almost no money, or my grandfather who worked in a dark, dangerous coal mine. Then suddenly any kind of job where I actually get paid to do what I love, sounds absolutely awesome.

 

I recently responded to blog post about public speaking and the topic was on “should a speaker thank the audience”? The writer of the blog said absolutely not, that a speaker shouldn’t thank them before or after giving a speech. There were a couple of different responses to that. I personally thought that it would be rude and arrogantĀ notĀ to thank them.

I’ve since found out that that is a hotly debated topic amongst professional speakers. So I really gave it some thought and weighed out the pros and cons of each argument. My first thought was that, of course you thank your audience. But I guess it really depends on how. And each situation is different. Plus, do you thank them in the beginning or at the end or both?

I did go through Toastmasters when I first started, but apparently Toastmasters has a thing against thanking the audience. I must say, I don’t remember this ever being an issue and I’m pretty sure I did thank them with out getting “fined”.

I come from a theater background and I’ve never left a stage without thanking the audience. But this is done in a final curtain call, which most speakers don’t have. If you notice, comedians and singers always thank the audience. Why shouldn’t a speaker?

Of course there aren’t any rules for speakers that say you have to do anything. That’s the beauty of being a public speaker. You’re the writer, director, producer and star of your own productions. You can do anything you want, but the ultimate decision is with the audience. So, here’s my take on it.

Whoever you’re speaking to could have hired anyone to grace their stage. But they hired you. So I see that as an honor and a privilege. It’s even more of a privilege when you consider that a lot of speakers make more money in one hour than the average worker makes in a whole month. I’m always thankful when they pick me.

The audience could be anywhere, but they chose to listen to your speech. I get as much from the audience as they get from me. I always learn from them. For that I’m thankful.

I’m not saying you have to open by thanking them or even thanking the presenter, if that slows you down. But at least thank them at the end for showing up and participating. You can end with a dynamic ending and then just give a quick thank you as you leave. It won’t detract from your speech, but it will leave the audience with a good feeling about you.

And besides, it’s just good manners. But that’s how I was raised in the South. Well, that’s my two cents. What do you think?

 

If you’ve been a public speaker for any length of time, you’ve probably run into the kind of audience that really forces you to be on your toes. I can’t really name any one industry or type of audience because it really depends on many factors as to whether you’ll be speaking to a tough audience or not.

I’ve spoken to an audience at 8:00 in the morning on the last day of a conference, after the group had a huge party the night before. Normally this might be a perky crowd, but since half of the room was nursing a hangover and were ready to go home, I really had my work cut out for me.

I’ve also spoken to groups that were expecting an academic type of lecture, when my style is far from being a lecture. I heard someone whisper “She didn’t have any charts and graphs”.

Though you can’t always predict what an audience will think of you or what they will expect from you, there are ways to ease the pain a little.

  • Use humor – You can’t go wrong when you use a little humor, especially if it’s directed at yourself. Even the toughest audiences don’t want to sit through a boring speech. A laugh is usually something that’s shared between friends, like a meal. If you want to get the audience on your side, say something funny that relates to them. Let them see your personality and they’ll be more receptive to what you’re saying.
  • Know your audience – Find out as much information from the meeting planner as you can beforehand about the people you’ll be speaking to. If I had known I would be speaking to an academic crowd, I could have at least thrown a few charts and graphs into the mix. I wouldn’t have had to change my style, but could have put in a few things that they wanted.
  • Know your material – The worse thing is to have an audience ask you questions you can’t answer. Make sure you know your material inside and out to the point that no question would stump you. If you have a highly intellectual crowd they will want to dig deeper into a subject, which means you should have vast knowledge about your topic. After all, they hired you for your expertise, so know it well. This includes case studies and the latest information on it.
  • Establish your expertise right off the bat – A tough audience will expect you to be the expert on your topic. Let them know quickly what your background is and why you’re there to speak to them about your topic. I’ve given a speech to a group of rocket scientists – yes, rocket scientists, and I had to start off by saying I knew absolutely nothing about their field, but what I did know about was inventing, since I am an inventor. And that’s what I was there to talk about.

If you assume that every audience is going to be tough, you’ll be better prepared to handle it.