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.