What A Speaker Needs To Do When You Piss Off Your Audience

What should a speaker do when you've stepped over the line?
What should a speaker do when you’ve stepped over the line?
Image Credit: William Franklin

Creating a speech and then delivering a speech is hard work. When we are creating our speech, we tend to focus on the importance of public speaking and what we want to say. We have a thought, and idea, or a position that we want to share with our audience. The purpose of our speech is to find a way to express our idea in a way that will capture our audience’s attention and, with a little luck, get them to see things our way. However, there are those times that something that we either say or do will irritate or anger one or more members of our audience. What’s a speaker to do then?

Avoid Talking About The Issue

When you detect that something that you’ve said has upset a member of your audience, you’ve got a decision to make. What do you want to do now? You have a number of different options to choose from. One of the most basic is to simply avoid talking about the issue that has upset a portion of your audience. What this means is that you take the position that you will neither confirm nor deny what you said that made them so upset.

If they can’t get you to go back and say what you said again, then it’s going to be hard for your audience to stay angry – did they really hear you correctly the first time? However, this may not be the best approach to take. The reason that you might not want to do this is because if you don’t provide your side of the story, then there is a good chance that your audience is going to fill in your side with their own version of your story. You probably won’t like what they have to say about you…

Pivot On The Issue

Since something that you have said to your audience has caused them to become upset with you, you really don’t want to go back there. One approach that you can take now is to switch topics. If some topic that you talked about got your audience upset, then simply don’t talk about that topic any more.

Using this technique you should be able to make it through the rest of your speech with no problems. When you decide to use a pivot to avoid a topic that has upset your audience, you need to understand that you’ll be running a risk. The alert members of your audience are going to detect what you are doing. They are going to see that you are avoiding talking about a topic that got your audience riled up. They may end up holding you accountable for what you said once your speech is over.

Deny That You Said It

When an audience starts to become upset because of something that they believe that you’ve said, you have another option for how you choose to deal with it. You can deny that you said what they think that you said. If you really have done nothing wrong, then this is an option that is available to you.

If you choose to deny that you’ve said something that your audience believes that you’ve said, then how you say it can be critical. You are going to want to work a note of righteous indignation into your denial. Additionally, using strong emotions in your denials will allow your audience to understand that you are willing to stake your reputation on your words. Keep in mind that if you have done what people think that you’ve done, then don’t deny it because you’ll lose all credibility when the truth comes out.

Own What You Said

The last option that you have when you say something during a speech that gets your audience riled up is to own it. Owning something means that you take responsibility for the words that you’ve said to your audience. When you own something, you take responsibility for what you said no matter if you were right or wrong.

Your audience will see your apology as being a sign of good will. They will see your apology as being an indication that you care about them. In many cases this will be the only way for a speaker to move beyond what they have done to get their audience upset. When you are owning something, you are not only taking responsibility for what you said, but also for what your audience heard.

What All Of This Means For You

When we imagine what will happen during our next speech, we generally can only picture good things as we share the benefits of public speaking with our audience. We deliver our speech, we change the way that our audience views the world, and everyone is happy. However, it turns out that if we’re not careful, we may end up saying something during our speech that upsets our audience.

If we find ourselves in a situation where we have somehow upset our audience, it is our responsibility to find a solution to the problem that we’ve caused. It turns out that we have four different ways that we can handle this type of problem. The first is to avoid talking about the issue. Just move on and pretend like it never happened. The next is to pivot and move on to a less controversial topic. In certain cases, we can deny what we said because we truly believe that our audience has misinterpreted our words. Finally, we can own what we said and apologize to our audience for making them upset.

The goal would, of course, be to avoid upsetting your next audience in the first place. However, we can’t always be a good judge of how our audiences are going to respond to what we have to tell them. In the case that something that you say gets your audience agitated, you need to know how to handle the situation. These four options will allow you to handle the situation gracefully and successfully reach the end of your speech.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Public Speaking Skills™

Question For You: If you give a speech that gets your audiene upset, what do you think that you should do once the speech is over?

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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!

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