Public Speaking: How To Lose Your Audience

November 9th, 2008 by Frank Damelio

Q: What is possibly the worst feedback you can get about your presentation?

A: Audience members get up and leave before you’ve closed.

I just attended an NSA New England event. It’s a great organization, and I’ve personally benefited from their speakers.  The first two presenters of the day delivered a great deal of value within a little time. Fran Goldstein enlightened us about the power of virtual assistants; and Steve Lishansky gave us a great framework for value-based pricing.

The main speaker, however, inadvertently taught us a invaluable lesson on exactly how to lose your audience.

The session was supposed to have delivered a great deal of content, but after the first two hours, attendees at my table were all looking at one another with puzzled faces.  The speaker spent a majority of this time on SELLING THE BENEFITS of what he was “about to cover”.  WOW!

Indeed, five minutes up front to extol the virtues of the upcoming content would have been great, but the presenter was incessantly preaching to the already converted.

About ninety minutes into the presentation, an attendee from another group stood up and said “with all due respect, you said you were going to cover all this material, and I have my concerns of how you are now going to fit it all in.”  The presenter responded that it was a fair concern, but nothing really changed.

During the second part of the session, I walked out.  It wasn’t the skipping around through unpaginated notes that drove me crazy;  it was the excruciatingly poor time/value ratio.  As a fellow professional presenter, I felt badly about walking out, but I needed to leave so I could blog the experience.

Shortly thereafter, others began to leave (before the close).  I let them share their opinions with me first, and the consensus was that they just couldn’t sit through any more.

What happened?  What can we learn from this?

I’ve seen this occur to a lesser degree when a presenter either has too much or (more often the case) too little content to fit the time slot.  Couple this with poor organization of notes and it’s all over before it ever begins.

When we present we need to keep in mind that many people are gifting us two precious resources: time and attention.  In the case the audience was also paying to attend.

Here are some tips on how to lose your audience:

1) Extend your introduction by over-selling your content.

2) Stretch your time by over-using anecdotes.

3) Bounce around your unpaginated notes.  If they ask where you are, simply respond: “a few pages from the back”; they’ll eventually find you.

If you don’t want to lose your audience:

Subscribe to the philosophy that every minute of your presentation is of vital importance.  If you waste 2 minutes before a fifty-person audience; you’ve lost over an hour and a half of people’s time. A couple of years back at a NSA New England event, Susan Keane Baker executed one of the best presentations I’d ever witnessed.  She made every minute count, she delivered in a way that everyone present received far more value than expected.  She inspired all of us to be better.

Driven by that philosophy, you can proceed with confidence that you will avoid the dreaded fate of losing your audience while public speaking.

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2 Responses to “Public Speaking: How To Lose Your Audience”

  1. greatmanagement Says:

    Great story and what a shame!

    I remember walking out of a seminar once when all what the presenter did was read the Powerpoint slides.

    Andrew

  2. fdamelio Says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for mentioning that topic. It’s certainly one we need to discuss in this forum. Ninety percent of speakers today use Powerpoint as a crutch, even though they themselves hate to watch others present in that manner. The “benefit” to the presenter is that it is SUPER easy to read off the slides; the con to the audience is that it is a cure for insomnia.

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