Monday, October 7, 2013

Don’t Shoot the Audience!

I attended a meeting where a high level executive was speaking to a group about an upcoming organizational change. He did all the right things – he provided information, asked for input, and gave detailed and candid answers to questions.
Actually – let me back up – good for him for even thinking to have the meeting! Proactive, frequent communication is rule #1 when it comes to leading organizational change. Too many executives hide in their offices and hunker during change and chaos. They often use the excuse of not having enough information to share (“I won’t be able to answer their questions, so why bother frustrating them or raising anxiety?”), or, just don’t have the courage to stand up and face the music.

Here’s where the meeting took a wrong turn. About halfway into the meeting, he all of a sudden sat upright, perked up, and said something like “Hey, this is going to be FUN! Why the sad faces? I’m looking around and you all look so serious and sad! What's wrong with you?!"
I thought of that line from the Joker from Batman – “Why so serious?!”

That’s when I think he lost the audience.

As the meeting went on, I looked around, and a few members of the audience were doing their best to maintain forced Joker-like ear to ear smiles, in order to please the executive.
One person was brave enough to attempt to provide some context to him to explain what he may have perceived, but he quickly dismissed the reason because that wasn’t how he had felt during changes like this one. Again, he judged and placed blame on the audience for not giving him the response he was looking for.

I’ve seen speakers; trainers, entertainers, athletes and countless executives do the same thing. Some are complete meltdowns; others more subtle. They are all doing the same thing – blaming the audience for their own inability to connect with them.
At my last company, the sales organizations hired a famous Olympic gold medal winner to come in and fire up the sales reps. Unfortunately, while he was a heck of an athlete, he was a train wreck as a speaker. His jokes were falling flat, and he was talking way down to the audience. Finally, he had had enough and he proceeded to tell the audience what a bunch of losers they are were. Mind you, this was an audience full of award winning sales reps.

We’ve all been there. You’re in front of a group, and you get the feeling something’s wrong – you’re bombing. You don’t want to ignore it and plow on, so what can you do?
Just ask, but in a non-judgmental way. Something like: “Hey, it’s really quiet in here, not a lot of energy. I’m wondering what’s going on? Can you give me some feedback or insight?”

Then, listen. Don’t judge, don’t label, just listen and acknowledge whatever you heard as legitimate. Try to address the issue or concern, or adjust whatever you’re doing to meet the audience’s needs.
Remember, as a leader of a meeting, a speaker, or as an entertainer, it’s not about you, it’s all about connecting with your audiance. If you’re picking up negative vibes, take responsibility for those vibes, and don’t shoot the audience!


Dr. Jordan R. Jensen said...

So true about audiences and speakers. The responsibility always lies primarily with the speaker, and the audience will -- 98% of the time -- respond based on how the speaker treats them. For example, my audiences can tell if I like them or not. They can also tell whether I am engaged and passionate about my topic. If something is wrong with the audience, it is almost always my issue, not theirs.

Dan McCarthy said...

Dr. Jordan -
Thanks for your comment. I think you nailed it!