We don’t have a speaker’s bill of rights, or an audience’s for that matter. But one day recently, after witnessing a speech gone wrong, and an audience angered, despite good intentions on both sides, I decided to rectify that lacuna. This week I’m offering the Speaker’s Bill of Rights as a way of addressing both sides of the problem.
Be as interested in the audience as they are in you.
Too many speakers think of their job as just getting on stage, delivering their set talk, and leaving by the back door, check in hand. I think more is required. I think that, just as the audience is expected to pay courteous attention to the speaker, so too the speaker should be genuinely interested in the audience. And audiences know when a speaker is for real, and when he/she is faking it.
Be respectful of the audience’s attention and level of knowledge.
Along with interest should go respect. The speaker should not waste the audience’s time, and the neither should he/she look down on how little or much the audience knows. If the audience is open to the speaker’s expertise, the speaker should spend the time teaching the audience no matter how basic the task seems.
A speaker should not try either to impress or demean an audience with excessive precision of knowledge. The basis of her expertise should be the passion and deep knowledge she brings to bear on the subject, not on trivial points. Stick to the important issues, and set an example of what expertise should look like.
Be open, accountable, and don’t go on the defense.
When you reach the limits of your knowledge, be open about them. Your job as a speaker is not to show off, but to show up with your honesty and accomplishments, no more, no less. “I don’t know, and isn’t that interesting,” is a highly useful answer to a question from an audience member, because it shows the outlines of expert knowledge on the subject.
Decide on your emotional response – be strategic, not reactive.
Certain things and people push our buttons and we get angry. That’s human, but it’s not good form for a speaker. You’ve got the elevated position of the platform; while you’re on it, you should elevate your game accordingly. Don’t lose your temper at someone in the audience, because your elevated position makes your response seem outsized and threatening.
Focus on the positive, the solution, the common ground.
As speaker, it’s your job to find the answers in the end, not just point out the problems. This is where politicians most often fail – it’s far easier to say what’s wrong with the country today than find a solution and point the way forward to a new destination that everyone can agree upon. But that’s the job.
Embrace the attempt, don’t criticize the result.
When an audience responds to you, to your questions, or to your demands, remember that you’ve had years to think about your subject and the audience is hearing about it (from you) for the first time. So be patient with them and what they offer back to you. The first steps are the biggest – they were when you took them, remember?
Last chance to sign up for our one-day workshop on powerful public speaking in Boston, next week: April 22nd. We’ve got a great group — including a guest speaker appearance by David Meerman Scott — last chance to join us!