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!