You’ve Lost Your Audience – Now What?

You’re feeling good, you’re well prepared, the room set up is just right, and you’ve launched into your presentation. BoringAudienceThen your heart sinks. You can feel the negative vibes coming from the audience.

They’ve tuned out.

Switching Gears

So what do you do when you’ve lost an audience? You have to stop. You can’t force-feed them information they don’t want to hear. At first you may think it’s your fault – how could I have missed the boat with my content?

But very often when an audience tunes out it has nothing to do with the speaker. Something else is going on and you need to find out what it is.

That’s what we did when a group of executives for one of our team building programs made it clear that’s not what they wanted or needed. So we discarded our planned agenda and said, “Tell us what you want to do in the next two days. Here are some possibilities.”

Then we listed them on the white board. It became a collaborative effort. The group was part of the process in shaping the training, based on what they felt they needed. It was one of the most productive training sessions we’ve ever facilitated. Everyone left happy.

All Worn Out

On another occasion we were retained to facilitate orientation sessions for Brazilian students who had just arrived for their first semester at NYU.

So What hand writing with a blue mark on a transparent boardThe first group was very receptive and clearly enjoyed the session. The second group arrived the next day. Nothing we did could get them engaged. We could feel their anger and several were nodding off. Collectively they were in a foul mood.

We stopped and said, “We just started and it’s too early for you not to like us. We worked with the other half of your group on Monday and we had a great time. Something must be going on. Why don’t you tell us about it?”

It turns out that their original plane was cancelled. When they finally arrived in New York their hotel rooms weren’t ready and the airline had lost their luggage. No wonder they were angry!

If we had tried to force feed them the situation would only have gotten worse. They needed to vent and get their anger behind them. Once we gave them space to express their frustration we were able to move on with the program.

Engage Your Audience

To avoid having your audience tune out, keep them engaged by varying the agenda:

  • Ask what they want. Start by describing the agenda for the training and get their feedback. The training shouldn’t be cast in stone. Be flexible and responsive to their needs.
  • Do Breakouts. After your overview, don’t just talk at your audience. Plan breakouts where they can work as teams to solve a problem. Have them share the results when they regroup.
  • Do individual training. Schedule sessions where you can work one-on-one with each individual. They will benefit from the intense training and you will have the opportunity to customize the session.
  • Get them on camera. Start video recording the participants sooner rather than later. That always gets their attention.
  • Get continuous feedback. Ask for feedback throughout the training. Determine if everyone is “getting it.” If they aren’t, then find out why not and adjust accordingly.

We don’t live in a perfect world. Sometimes things don’t go right. But you can’t just give up if your audience tunes out.

You’ve got a job to do. Stop. Take a deep breath, find out what the problem is, and then fix it.

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