Here’s the situation: At a workshop I attended recently, the room was set up with chairs and tables to accommodate 50 people. Fifteen participants attended the event. And, as you might predict, those 15 people chose seats widely scattered toward the back of the room. As the speaker walked to the front, the first two rows were empty, leaving around 20 feet between the speaker (where she stood by her laptop) and the first row of participants.
The presenter made a joke about no one sitting in the front rows and then she said, “My voice usually projects really well. I think we’ll be fine, but let me know if you can’t hear me.”
Here’s the stupid mistake: The speaker abdicated her responsibility and missed an opportunity.
It’s natural for a group of strangers to “hold back” in a new situation. As a workshop starts, the participants are typically risk-adverse. They choose their seats for psychological safety rather than engagement with the rest of the group. It’s the speaker’s job to set the tone for any event, and to initiate the involvement essential for the highest level of learning, networking, and enjoyment. A tone of engagement must be set in the opening seconds of the event, or it will be nearly impossible to recover.
Looking at this situation objectively, the speaker made an idiotic offer: “I’ll strain my voice throughout the morning so that you don’t have to move.”
Here’s the solution: The speaker should have, in a confident and good-humored way, insisted that the participants move toward the front. Both the confidence and the good humor are important. Audience members expect the speaker to take charge, and they begin to relax when it happens. At the same time, they want to feel like adults, not children being herded by a schoolmarm.
Note that this speaker was experienced and competent. The morning was okay, and I learned some things. Had she taken responsibility for true engagement, however, her competence might have swelled into excellence. Building on the speaker’s and each other’s ideas, the group might have reached a whole new level. Personally, whether I’m the speaker or a participant, that’s what I’m striving for. How about you?
For more stupid mistakes that sabotage your speech, go to http://www.incrediblemessages.com/products.htm#howtowin.