The crowd was hostile. The speaking event was to listen to residents living in a retirement community undergoing construction. One speaker after another would get up to share how unfair the renovation of their facilities were, selectively forgetting the process the residents went through agreeing that the renovation was needed.
During this exchange, I was the moderator and represented the company that was trying to improve the programs serving residents through improved facilities. Some of the comments attacked me personally because of who I represented.
Berkun, in his book Confessions of a Public Speaker addresses this situation in one of the last chapters called “What to do when things go wrong.” He recommends to get to the meeting early to mingle and welcome people to short circuit a hostile meeting through relationship building. I will do this in the future. He also recommends to get through it the best you can as well as cut material presented to get to Q and A as quick as possible.
I learned much that day about how not to deal with a tough audience. Berkun has good advice, do not get emotionally engaged and do the best you can under the circumstances. He has other advice about how to deal with the heckler, those who are not listening and when your time gets cut from speaking 45 minutes to 10 minutes.
I consider myself a seasoned speaker most of my life. I have a BA in Speech Communication and preached in the pulpit for many years. Now I teach and speak nationally on leadership and Retirement Community services.
Berkun’s book reminded me about good speaking habits I have incorporated in my presentations as well as gave me a few tips that I had not thought about. One idea is to carry your own PowerPoint projector remote controller so one has the freedom to keep eye contact instead of circling back to change the slide. Another idea is to give away free books to encourage people to move into the front row. Reading Confessions of a Public Speaker is like taking Public Speaking 301.
Berkun, Scott. Confessions Of A Public Speaker. California: O’Reilly Media Inc.„ 2010