How to Speak to a Tough Crowd

How to Speak to a Tough CrowdOne of the most nerve-wracking things a speaker or businessperson gets to do is speak to a tough crowd when they already know that their message has been rejected. On top of the typical nerves that come along with giving just about any speech, you are also worried about rejection on a personal level. How do you work to overcome both your fears and people’s prejudices and objections?

Emily Hubbell at Speaker Magazine has some suggestions for you. Let’s go over them one at a time.

Get off to the right start

If you’re presenting to a divided group or to people who you know oppose what you’re going to say, you can give yourself the advantage by reframing the conversation right off the bat. Begin by focusing on the human element as opposed to the details of your plan or why you’re gathered together in the first place. Make an appeal to empathy. There are certain things we can all agree on, even if we don’t agree on how to accomplish them. These are the things you want to focus on as you start.

Bridge the gap

If you’re the speaker, it’s likely your audience sees you (and the leadership you are speaking for) as being somewhat separate or disconnected from where they are. Be aware of this and make an effort to connect as soon as you can. Rags-to-riches stories connect with almost everyone – people love to hear how hard work and determination can lead to future successes.

Make the struggle universal

No matter our lot in life, we are all faced with adversity and have opportunities either to shrink back in fear or go forward and grow. The space between the courage to face adversity head on or turn away is one we have all dealt with. If your audience is skeptical, questioning, or hostile, this is an excellent way to connect; we all cheer people on in their struggle to overcome adversity. Deep down, we all want to succeed against the odds and be the hero of our own story. If others can do it, why can’t we?

Bonus: don’t make it about you.

A personal anecdote or two is acceptable, but make sure your talk is about your audience – helping them succeed and overcome. Even if people are not immediately on board with your perspective or plan, it is difficult to begrudge someone who wants us to succeed.

Presenting to a tough crowd is a difficult task, but winning people over is not impossible. Authenticity and sincerity have won over enemies, and they can certainly help you win over your audience.

Your turn: how do you speak to a tough crowd? Feel free to share your tips and suggestions as a comment below.

2 thoughts on “How to Speak to a Tough Crowd

  1. I suggest you read ” Say it Like Obama and Win” by Shel Leanne (ISBN 978-0071802703)
    There are many tools Obama uses in addressing tough crowds to inspire and persuade his audiences. This book is a technical analysis of many of his memorable speeches; worthwhile reading. I have incorporated some of Obama’s techniques in my own speeches to great effect.

Leave a Reply