Monday, August 8, 2011

How Not to Engage an Audience

“Stand up so we can embarrass you,” the keynote speaker said with a booming laugh as he approached a table of business owners. I shook my head and thought: “Did he really say that?” This took place at a networking breakfast sponsored by a large company with which does business.

Obviously the speaker was trying hard to engage a fairly sleepy audience, something his wordy PowerPoint slides hadn’t done. He did get people to stand up and talk. I found him heavy-handed, but then I always prefer an appeal to the brain rather than an elbow in the ribs; give me Monty Python over Mel Brooks any day. Seeking a reality check, I turned to public speaking expert and speechwriting teacher Joan Detz. Here’s her reply:

“'Stand up so we can embarrass you!’ Well, Marian, if I had been there to hear it, I’d have slunk to the back door and disappeared! My guess is: Even though a few people stood up and participated, many more were sitting there uncomfortable –- feeling ‘relieved’ only when that portion of the presentation was over with.”

Thank you, Joan! P.S. A few days after the breakfast, a participant emailed the rest of us to voice his disappointment. He wished that the speaker’s time had been devoted to meeting other participants. In short, a subpar speaker dragged down an otherwise useful event.