See if this sounds familiar: you’re standing in front of a group of people, you’re about to start speaking to them, you make a start that isn’t your best, and suddenly everything seems to fall apart. The audience isn’t responding in the way you hoped for – or think they should. They’re not really paying attention to you, they might be looking at their phones, or talking to one another. It’s clear to you that even the ones who seem to be paying attention aren’t fully engaged, the way you hoped and expected they'd be. It may feel like it can only get worse from there, but it's not too late to save this situation, though it might be feeling desperate to you.
The best possible way to get yourself back on track is to focus on the relationship you have with your audience.
You may not have thought of what’s going on between you and the audience as a relationship, but it absolutely is, and audiences instinctively understand this. For whatever amount of time they are your audience, you are in an active relationship with them. By thinking abut the dynamic between you and the audience as a relationship, you’re putting yourself in the strongest possible position to positively influence them and to achieve whatever goal you might have. Thinking this way will give you the added benefit of increasing the breath and range of emotional tone and degree of intimacy you have with your audience.
The following approach will improve any relationship you have, whether it’s at work, in your personal life, or talking to an audience of people you’ve never seen before. It’s simple, and it represents the best possible chance for “feeding” a relationship and getting what you’d like from it:
give what you’d like to get in return.
In other words, if you want to be respected, model that behavior by behaving in a respectful fashion (this is done more by intention than by any specific behavior. The appropriate behavior will flow from your specific intention to be respectful. While it’s tempting to go directly to a specific behavior that you think models respect, like asking if everyone can hear you, or asking if the audience would like you to go into greater detail on a point, start with the intention to act in a respectful manner. The right intention on your part will fuel the behavior that’s appropriate for that intention). If you want to be trusted, set that intention so that you can model that behavior. If you want to be communicated with openly and transparently, model that behavior. You’re essentially setting up a web of intentions that will inform your behavior.
Be clear on these intentions before you step in front of the audience. This approach sounds simple, and it is, but it takes commitment and vigilance. If you expect to be regarded or treated in a way without first having modeled that behavior, you may be in for a long wait. This is especially true for people in leadership positions. The people you lead are looking to you to set both the emotional tone and behavioral standard for the relationship. It’s just another example of first giving what you’d like to get in return. Only by modeling your behavior to mirror what you’d like to see from them are you likely to see them reflect that behavior back to you.
The effectiveness of this practice becomes beautifully evident when you try it. Even if you occasionally don’t get what you’d like in return, you’re still behaving in a manner that expresses the fundamental respect you have for yourself, and for others. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.