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Dave Clark discusses ethically speaking, how can you handle your audience?

As a manager, departmental head, human resource manager, headmaster or mistress, CEO, or other member of managerial staff, we are often faced with situations where a speech, or presentation, has a difficult theme or involves sensitive content that has the potential to create a backlash, or wholly negative effect.

Imagine your organization is downsizing, or a wage cap has been invoked. How do you tell your employees that this year there will be no bonus or benefits package? Perhaps even that a wage cut must be invoked in order to maintain resource levels.

In fragile and delicate situations such as these, how can you not only maintain order within the ranks, but also reduce the risk of negative and destructive influences taking over your arguments either during or following your speech? And perhaps of more importance, how can you turn a potentially negative situation into a morally boosting and supportive event?

Presentation Article and Advice about Your Audience

Ethically speaking, how can you handle your audience?

Dave Clark, Communication Consultant,

Where your interest lie

Like many situations, our audiences ability, or rather willingness to accept our arguments and points, is often driven and measured by our own credibility. As a speaker, the more credibility that you can encourage and gain from your audience, the greater the amount of content will be considered and accepted.

Much in the vain of an employee whose ideas and suggestions for improvement and efficiency are continuously ignored or brushed aside by their employer. Over time, the employee loses interest and motivation, loses commitment and grows increasingly passive in their duties and disrespectful of their employer's managerial stance.

Though on a greatly increased macro level, speakers will have little or no impact at all on audiences, if the audience members themselves do not respect them, or what they have to say.

So as a speaker in a sensitive and delicate situation, how can you make your audience trust in you and what you have to say? How can you make you audience believe that you have their best interest at heart?

Consistency of voice

There's simply no point addressing your audience about any delicate issue, albeit possible wage cuts, downsizing, or loss of benefits, with an upbeat vocal pattern. No more than one could expect a speaker to gain acceptance at a multilevel or network-marketing meeting if he or she stood there and spoke gently, calmly and in a less than euphoric voice.

Adopting the right tone of voice for your audience is crucial. You must show allegiance with your audience not alienate yourself from them. It is vital that your audience feels that the subject is effecting everyone, and has consequences not only for them, but also consequences for the speaker. Consequences that they are able to readily identify with.

However, the line between compassion and understanding, and conceding is a fine and narrow one. As a speaker, if you appear as though you are at a funeral, your audience will begin to look around and wonder who has died. Invoking a wholly negative response from your presentation, and leaving your audience focused on that sole point, preventing them from absorbing any more of your content, key arguments, or reasoning.

Consistency of expression

As with your voice, it would be foolish to expect your audience to accept your speech if you smirk, wink, or give the impression that the subject is not relevant or has lesser importance to you directly than your audience members.

One must show concern when discussing any issue that has impact on the company, or your colleagues, Acting disinterested, or distant in your expression and mannerisms when presenting negative news will almost certainly offend your listeners.

Optimistic intervals in consistency

In much the same way as you must find consistency between your voice you're your expression, it is important to try to find optimism and positive points within your content and speech that will allow you to add greater enthusiasm at intervals in your delivery, and allow variety and faster rates of speech when reaching any interval of exciting climax.

Such intervals of optimism, enable you lighten the darkness of the picture and show hope. If only faint, or only a flicker, in situations where hope would seem a childish whim, and conclusions are already drawn, helping your audience to understand the mechanisms of the situation that your organization now faces, means also to empower them with the possibility to do something about it. To help get things back on course, or turn things around. If your crew believes the ship is sinking they will abandon ship and allow it to sink rather than continue to pale whilst repairs are made.

Practice what you preach

Many years ago, my employer addressed our organization to try to improve the overall environment and work climate within the group. Many individuals were talking in corridors, whispering round corners, talking amongst themselves, and a general feeling of discontentment was brewing and spreading throughout the concern like a virus.

As our employer stood and address us, he gave an impassioned speech of how we need to increase our communication skills. How we must learn to talk more with each other, suggest ideas, be willing to discuss things, and most importantly, how we should end our closed door office policy and keep doors open and inviting, and together make our organization a happier, stronger, and more trustful family.

When his speech was concluded, an applause was raised and people looked at other and brief differences were set aside and a feeling of unity and "yes, we can do this", filled the room to obvious delight of all present. The audience was motivated and we were all ready to get back to work and put into practice our employers new vision and environment ideal.

As our employer excused himself to make his way back to his office, people talked about new possibilities and ideas were briefly exchanged between departments.

Moments later a project manager returned with a cup of coffee in hand and frown that swept his face from ear to ear. When asked what was wrong, he pointed to the end of the corridor. There was our employer in his office door closed, back turned to his employees, leaning back in his chair.

A de-motivated group of staff returned to their various offices, and closed their doors.

He obviously did not understand the need for a speaker to act in ways consistent with their messages in order to maintain credibility.

Prepare or prepare to be ignored

Though many speakers adopt the attitude of an artist, in that "I am speaking, so of course they will listen", or "I have finished painting now so they will come and view my work". Don't forget that it is actually your audience that has given you time and the opportunity to express your best effort.

You can only provide them with this through careful preparation. In as much as a smile when discussing cut backs will instantly show your audience your unconcern for their situation, if your audience are able to see that you didn't prepare for them specifically, and that preparation was not adequate or devised in concern, and they will feel betrayed and won't respond positively to your message.

Respect your audience

Your audience may have had little choice but to attend the meeting or presentation. However, they can and will each decide whether or not to listen to you, and what you have to say.

Show respect for your audience not ignorance or arrogance of their gender, backgrounds, positions, appearances, or nationalities. Judging individuals because of their apparent lack of knowledge of a topic shows little humility, and is often the very reason why you have been asked to address them, to share your knowledge and improve their understanding. To help them understand the position your organization is now in, and how it got there, and the options now available. Treat each audience member as you would like to be treated if you were in your audience.

Respect your audience's time. Know the duration of your speech, and the time you are expected to finish, and ensure that you finish at that time. Don't insult members of your audience or abuse your opportunity to speak by making them wait, or expect them to listen ten, twenty, or thirty minutes more than what is expected of you.

As you move to conclusion

When discussing any key area or point of your presentation, base your conclusions on clear evidence. Support your assertions with relevant facts, statistics, and testimony. Don't make assumptions. In areas of critical and compelling circumstance, you no longer have the luxury of assumption. Your audience are interested only in fact. In reasons. In options. In truth.

Whilst the growth, the revenue patterns, the very life, and ambitions of any organization or group of individuals can never be fully controlled, remember that for many who do not deal with the daily administrative tasks and trends of the financial politics of an organization, often believe that they are and have been successfully. When this is found not to be the case, do not waste time pointing fingers, the most immediate issue is to deal with your audiences disappointment and the consequences of the organizations position. What seems apparent to you may not to a less informed member of your audience.

To reduce the risk of audience revolt, remember to practice consistency in voice and expression, in preparation and respect. In what may be a final opportunity to motivate certain individual or groups of employees, colleagues, and co-workers, remember whilst you may not be responsible for placing the organization in the position it is now in, you are in a position to help motivate it out.

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