Thursday, September 1, 2016

Dealing with the Challenges of Public Speaking

To prevent losing your composure when you're speaking, you should master some techniques to handle the most common public speaking challenges: an audience that has lost focus, an uncooperative audience, an audience with difficult questions, and hecklers.

Regaining an audience's attention

If you're giving a presentation late in the day or just after lunch, you may be dealing with a fatigued or unfocused audience before you even begin speaking. In that case, try some techniques to revitalize your listeners before you start:
  • You can state the obvious – that you recognize it's difficult to stay interested sometimes. Acknowledging that people seem unfocused could cause your audience to improve their manners and perk up.
  • You can ask everyone to stand and move around a bit. Moving around can revitalize a tired group.
  • You can inject energy into the situation by getting excited, speaking with passion, or using humor. Try to prepare a few witty statements you can use to engage your audience.
  • A change in activity can stimulate people. You can tell them to write down everything you're about to say – your top three key messages for them to take away. The promise of receiving important information may pique their interest.
Sometimes, you may be well into a presentation when the audience begins to lose focus. You'll know that you're losing them because they stop making eye contact or laughing at your humor. Or you might hear people at the back talking. Sometimes you may feel the atmosphere changing, or the energy you were getting from your audience may start fading away.
Any of the basic techniques you used to revive the audience before beginning your presentation will also work to refocus an audience's energy during the presentation. You can increase the level of interactivity to keep your audience attentive. You could ask for volunteers to come up on stage to help you illustrate a point. Or you can ask audience members questions directly, putting them on the spot and engaging them to keep their focus.
Another technique is to use vocal changes such as pausing or changing your tone. Admittedly, most people, upon noticing that their listeners have tuned out, will begin to talk louder. But this tactic doesn't work. If you stop speaking or speak more softly, however, most audiences will notice. Injecting energy or drama by telling a story, making sound effects, or conveying excitement will also help refocus your audience.

Handling an uncooperative audience

Another challenge you may face in public speaking is an uncooperative audience. There are several reasons an audience may be uncooperative, and techniques you can use to deal with each:
  • they disagree with your message – If you have an audience that doesn't share your views, you can try to build rapport and find some common ground. You must remain respectful of other people's right to a different point of view, while also finding a way to present your point of view humbly and with intelligence. Find some common ground and build on it. This way audience members will feel you come from the same standpoint but have differing views.
  • they've heard it already – In a situation where the audience has already heard the message you're conveying, you can acknowledge that you realize that fact. Then you can link some of your main points to the message they previously heard. Or you can focus your ideas in a different direction to provide a contrasting point of view.
  • attendance is compulsory – When audience members are uncooperative due to compulsory attendance, you can acknowledge why they're uncooperative and then give them some good reasons why what you have to say is important.

Responding to difficult questions

Another challenge you may face in public speaking is an audience that asks difficult questions. You must prepare for the questions you're likely to be asked. If you find out who'll be in your audience, you can better anticipate the types of questions they'll ask you. Also, if you've given the speech before, learn from the questions you were asked on previous occasions.
You can't anticipate every possible question, so you must have techniques ready to handle difficult questions. One simple technique is to never give a dishonest answer. Always retain your credibility – if you don't know the answer to a question, admit it. However, never avoid answering a difficult question. Instead, give an honest answer based on what you know, and then steer the speech back to your area of expertise. Remember to stay calm, no matter how aggressive your questioner is. You must always take charge and respond in a professional manner. If questioners are being belligerent, ranting, or rambling, ask them politely for the specifics of their questions.

Dealing with heckling

The fourth challenge is perhaps the most unsettling – hecklers. Heckling can be defined as anything that interrupts the speaker and distracts the audience. It may be difficult initially to distinguish between an interruption and heckling, but as you become more practiced you'll begin to recognize the signs. Sometimes it's understated, such as someone shaking her head or repeatedly clicking her pen; other times, it's more obvious, like verbal outbursts.
You can use a number of techniques when dealing with hecklers. First you should evaluate the situation to make sure the distraction is affecting the majority of your audience. A person sighing once would not be considered a distraction to the whole audience. However, a person who deliberately sighs every time you make a point to show his disagreement may serve as an annoying interruption for your listeners. In this situation, you should handle the situation immediately and politely. You could probably ask the person if he's OK and give him a chance to step out. Or you could pointedly say that you researched and practiced your speech with care and were specifically asked to present because of your expertise. Then you could mention that if anyone is in disagreement, they can feel free to leave the room.
Sometimes you need to consult with the audience in order to respond to a heckler. This can help unite the audience against the distraction. You could simply ask the audience if they agree with the heckler or if they'd prefer that you continue with your speech. Remember to remain in control of your stage and your emotions. Your audience will respect you for taking the situation into your own hands and putting a stop to the disrespectful behavior. Never ignore hecklers – especially aggressive or potentially dangerous ones. They're a threat to you and your audience and must be responded to quickly.
Public speaking has many challenges, but they can all be overcome with specific techniques and practice. When your audience has lost focus, you can acknowledge the challenge of staying focused. You can also change the activity to help them feel revived. Another technique is to inject interactivity into your speech to help your audience refocus. If you're dealing with an uncooperative audience, you can acknowledge why they're irritable and then find some common ground from which to build rapport. An audience that asks difficult questions can also be a challenge. Never avoid the hard questions. Answer honestly, stay calm and don't engage in an argument with a combative person. Finally, if you encounter a heckler, you should deal with him quickly and firmly to retain control of your stage and your audience. Try to consult your audience to present a united front to the heckler. Or give the heckler a chance to leave.

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