Dealing With A Hostile Audience

Speakers need to understand how to work with a hostile audience
Speakers need to understand how to work with a hostile audience
Image Credit: Neil Moralee

I’d like to be able to tell you that every audience that you will address will be excited to hear you talk and are open to your message because they understand the importance of public speaking. However, as we all know this is not the case. There will be times that as you stand on that stage you will be able to feel the hostility coming from your audience. When you find yourself in a situation like this, you need to know how to deliver your speech in a way that will prevent your audience from tuning you out and may allow you to build bridges to them.

Be Clear

If you find yourself facing a hostile audience, the one thing that you don’t want to be is to be unclear. What you are going to want to do is to have a clarity of purpose. What this means is that your audience has to understand why you are standing in front of them. What is the purpose of your speech? Is it your goal to persuade, inform or inspire your audience? By giving this speech, what do you hope to achieve? I think that we can all agree that attempting to address an audience that could turn on you at any moment is a challenging thing to try to do. In order to be successful at doing this you are going to have to come face to face with your aspirations and fears. If you can do this, then it will help you to understand them and be in control. You’ll need to have this understanding of what your purpose is if during your speech you start to feel agitated or flustered.

Create A Speech For This Audience

As speakers we all run the risk of trying to use the wrong speech for the wrong audience. We may have a speech that we have given in the past laying around and when we are asked to give a speech we may pick it up and try to use it again. Don’t do this. Instead, make sure that you adapt your talk to your audience. You need to take the time to understand your audience. If they are angry, make sure that you understand why they are angry. What you are going to have to do is to work into your speech information about your audience and about what really interests them. You can’t use a canned speech – it won’t connect with your audience.

Stay In Control Even During Q&A

You are the speaker, you control the room. If your speech has time built into it to allow your audience to address you during a Q&A segment, you are going to have to make sure that you remain in control. You will always want to stay on message. If someone asks you a question that has nothing to do with your speech, thank them and say that you’ll talk with them after your speech is over. Whatever you do, don’t allow a Q&A session be overtaken by unrelated topics.

Your Opinion Counts – But Not Now

Some speakers view a speech as being a platform for them to spent the entire time letting their audience know about their opinion on some particular topic. This is something that we should never do. What we need to realize is that speaking opportunities are not all about your ego. Rather, they are about a chance for you to inform your audience. Don’t abuse your next speaking opportunity to go on at length conveying your opinion on some topic.

Everyone’s Ideas Are Valuable

I think that we all think highly of our own ideas. The problem that we can run into is that if we aren’t careful, we can start to think that anyone else’s ideas that don’t agree with ours must be wrong. That simply is not true. We need to understand that the people in our audience may have different ideas about the things that we are speaking about. We need to respect them for that. We also need to understand that our ideas are not superior to theirs. We may have different ideas, but they are not necessarily better ideas. When we are addressing an audience we must let our audience know that we are open to learning about how their ideas.

What All Of This Means For You

Not every audience that we will eventually be addressing will be happy to see us. There will be times when we find ourselves standing in front of an audience that may be hostile to either us or to the message that we have to deliver to them. When we find ourselves in a situation like this, we need to understand that we are going to have to adjust how we give our speech in order to share the benefits of public speaking with this audience. Knowing how to go about doing this is something that every speaker needs to know.

The first thing that you have to be aware of is that you will need to be very clear in what you are talking about. Your speech has to have a purpose. You can’t reuse an old speech. You need to create a speech for the audience that you will be addressing and you need to account for how they will be feeling. If your speech has a Q&A section, you will need to take steps to remain in control. Don’t use your speech as a chance to talk about your opinion on a topic – use it to inform your audience. You also have to understand that everyone’s ideas are valuable, not just yours.

An audience that has the potential to become angry while you talk needs to be handled carefully. As speakers we have a great deal of power and we are the ones who control how our speech will turn out. We need to take the time to understand our audience and what they are looking for. If we can create a speech that will address their specific needs, then we will be able to deliver a speech that may turn a lion into a lamb.

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

Question For You: If someone keeps asking off-topic questions during a Q&A session, what should you do?

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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 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!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So why do you give speeches? Is it just to hear yourself speak? Is it because you understand the importance of public speaking? I suspect that the answer to this question is “no”. We give speeches because we have information that we want to share with an audience. Our goal for sharing this information is to persuade and influence them in order to get them to take some sort of action that we want to have accomplished. In order to make that happen, your audience is going to have to understand your message, accept it, and then act upon it. What you need to do is to learn how to speak persuasively. It turns out that there are a number of things that you can do while you are speaking that will make this happen.