3 Do's & Don'ts when Presenting to an Audience that Doesn't Want to Be There.
Updated: Mar 6
Many of us will be asked to present at a staff meeting or similar event for which the listeners are required to be there. In those situations the audience is likely to be ambivalent. It's a difficult situation for any presenter.
Here are a few ideas to help you to woo captive listeners that may rather be somewhere else:
1. Don't force gimmicky interactivity...
Getting people to actively participate in a presentation makes a lot of sense: get them out of their chairs; have them take a poll; do a call and response; etc. But when an activity seems contrived and forced, when it doesn't clearly match the content, it can do more harm than good.
...try to make it a conversation about them.
It's likely that your listeners came into the presentation feeling that it is not important to them as individuals. And it's likely that that makes them feel like they and their time are not being treated as important. Invite your listeners to be an important part of the presentation by asking for their thoughts and reactions to what you are saying. Don't save this for a post-presentation Q&A session. Do it at reasonable intervals throughout your talk.
2. Don't put on an energetic performance...
Being expressive and dynamic when you speak is almost always a good thing, but it doesn't work when you are doing it at a level that doesn't match either the emotional quality of the content or the energy of "the room". Don't equate high energy with high engagement. Coming at a sedate audience like a ball of energy is a recipe for overwhelming them and coming across as fake.
...tap into your authentic desire for helping them.
Ideally, you will produce an energy level that gently lifts that of your audience. One way to do this is to simply care about helping them. You can't always be passionate about the topic, but you can always be passionate about serving your listeners. Tap into your generous desire to serve. Channel that energy to your voice, face and body as you talk, and you will come across as expressive, dynamic and, most importantly, authentic.
3. Don't bargain or make a deal...
Saying things like, "If you can hang in there, I'll keep this short and sweet," is a cop out on your part and an invitation for your listeners to cop out as well. Don't try to get them to go through the motions of sitting and paying attention by suggesting you'll go through the motions of presenting. The assumption should always be that, when you ask an audience to listen to you, it is important and you are always keeping it as short and sweet as possible out of respect for their time.
...demand excellence of yourself.
If you sense your audience doesn't want to be there, show them you do.
Show them you wouldn't waste their time with trivial content and a lazy delivery.
Coax them into giving you their effort by giving them yours.
If there is a secret to all of this, it is to seek out what is truly relevant to your listeners by listening to them. Uncover what they care about and connect it to your ideas and goals for them. By listening and responding to their thoughts and reactions with intention, by making the conversation about them, you treat them as important and they are likely to so the same for you.