Here’s a really interesting article from Lucy Kellaway at the FT in London. She tells a funny story about trying to launch her speech to 600 bankers with a costume change to help her make her point. It’s a good story and she draws her own conclusions about what she (and we) can learn from her mistake. She blames the audience and suggests the solution is to place stooges in the audience to help the speaker.
The night before the talk I had dinner with the organisers. I warned them about the onstage outfit change and begged them to laugh and maybe clap. They looked a bit alarmed but said they would do what they could.
As I hopped around on one leg trying to free myself of the jeans under the gaze of a stunned and embarrassed audience, I cast a desperate glance at one of the stooges. She started to laugh and applaud and a couple of minutes later all 600 were at it. Disaster was averted, I recovered my balance and the talk was fine. I recommend the stooge trick wholeheartedly, though in future I will be leaving the clothes trick to supermodels.
I think she had a different problem. And I think it’s all her own. It’s a really common problem too when a speech is built around an idea that seemed funny when you thought it up, and seems lame in the room on the day with 600 Asian (or any kind) of bankers. It also points to the flawed assumption, often made by CEO’s, Journalists, and other high-achieving people, that they’re also good at public speaking- when evidence suggests that they’re actually barely competent. The fault in both cases here might be that the good Journo and the (I’m assuming) good CEO mentioned in the article, are actually rubbish on their feet, in which case blaming the audience might be the easy way out.
Lucy suggests that no public speaking expert ever mentions that audiences are different and building a relationship with them is an essential part of any successful speech. Well she’s just flat wrong there. Every one of them does, if they’re truly expert. It’s the most important thing. More important than the text. More important than the speaker, more important than the venue, the occasion or the buffet. If, as I suspect may have happened here, you wander out into the stage with a gag that you’ve never tried before, that leaves the crowd at best dumbfounded, at worst annoyed and confused, then you’ve left a really strong impression of your own competence that will leak into the audiences impression of you forever. Remember Fundamental Attribution Error?
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