I was coaching a client recently and realized that this able speaker had some serious misconceptions about how to relate to the people sitting in the chairs in front of him.  It’s essential to keep the right attitude toward your audiences despite the stresses of travel, performance, and occasionally unpredictable audience responses.  A speaker can easily become cynical, indifferent, or even angry at her audiences if the road and the stress get too much.  Don’t let it happen!  Here’s a quick reminder list about what an audience means to a speaker.

1.Never take the audience for granted.  An audience gives you the gift of its attention for the hour that you have it.  That’s a wonderful present and it’s where all thinking about an audience should begin.

2.Protect yourself.  You and the audience won’t always agree.  And it’s never 100 percent.  Someone will simply not like your suit, your shoes, or your smile.  If you’re saying something truly world-changing, lots of people may dislike your message.  You need to arm yourself for the occasional hurt.

3.But stay open.  Nonetheless, you need to remain fundamentally open, or no real sharing can take place.  It’s on you to start the dialogue, and to do that in an authentic way, you have to find ways to stay open even when you run into disagreement.

4.Always give the audience the benefit of the doubt. They’re away from home, probably, too, and they have long days trying to keep up with what’s going on back at the office while they’re at the conference trying to learn something new. Let them off the hook – they’re doing the best they can.

5.Don’t blame the audience when things go wrong.  It’s tempting to blame your tools, the day, the meeting planners, the technology – and even the audience.  But don’t fall for it.  If things go wrong, it’s on you.  You set the agenda for the hour, and you are the one at the front of the room.  Whatever happens, adapt.

6.Have funLet it go.  Whether it goes wrong, or right, don’t take it too seriously.  It’s almost certainly warm and dry where you are, and there are coffee and donuts at the break.  Lots of worse things could be happening.

7.Don’t expect the audience to love you.  The highest, best purpose of a speech is to change the world by changing the audience in front of you.  To do that, you have to persuade them to let go of their status quo. That may not be endearing to them.  Don’t worry about it.  Do your job, and let them deal with their emotions.

The psychology of performance involves huge risk and equally huge reward.  You put yourself out there, open and vulnerable, in front of the audience, and you get something back – with very high stakes.  Keep these seven pointers in mind and you’ll keep yourself oriented in the right way toward the audiences you encounter this fall and beyond.

Here’s to many happy speeches, audiences, and world-changing moments.

Come and learn about audiences, speeches, and delivery at our Powerful Public Speaking workshop, one day, October 24th, in Boston.  Spaces are limited, so sign up soon!



  1. Hey Nick, One thing that helps me to put an audience into perspective is to consider the collective amount of time that I command from the stage. For me it is just one hour of time. But when I consider that an audience of 500 people each spending an hour with me is nearly 21 full days of people’s attention that gets me on my game.

    How should I prepare for a one hour meeting with one person? How would that change if I were spending three full nonstop weeks with somebody?

    I just did a rough calculation and I figure in the past ten years I have commanded the attention of 14 years of collective audience time. (And I’ve been on an airplane for 5 full months of the past ten years)!

  2. Scott, what a great way to frame the value of audience time! Nick, thanks for the reminder to guard ourselves against criticism. I recently attended an event at which the executive director of a highly acclaimed triple-venue spoke. Waves of approval seemed to be swept aside when one critic spoke harshly about the lack of classical music in upcoming performances. The speaker calmly explained the curation of audience favorites, and continued on. No matter how inspiring and positive our messages, we need to prepare for resistance. We take the best, and leave the rest.

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