What does audience engagement mean to you? What does their approval look like? Applause? Cheers? Roses thrown at your feet?
Sometimes, the deepest and profound kind of audience approval is silence.
Hear me out. Yes, it’s true that silence can mean that your audience is bored out of their minds and on the verge of falling asleep. That is one version of silence that is, well, bad.
But there is another kind of silence and, quite frankly, it’s the kind of silence I aim for in all of my training programs.
The discussion of the different types of audience approval came up recently while I was speaking to a group of the National Speakers Association.
“Sometimes I don’t get the feedback I want from my audience,” said a woman in the back row, “Do you have any recommendations on how to get your audience to give you the positive feedback you might need as a speaker It just helps because then I can feed off of their energy.”
What a great question.
To which I replied, “You’re not going to like my answer.” (At least I’m honest.)
“Your goal as a speaker is not to seek approval from your audience. Instead, your objective should be to change lives. You are trying to help your audience change their way of thinking or behaving that will improve their life in some way. Therefore, your message should surpass any self-esteem need you might have,” I explained.
Does it feel good to get applause? Sure. Is it nice to see smiles in the crowd? Absolutely. But the most powerful moments usually happen when your audience is still and introspective.
Your audience isn’t smiling and nodding if you are challenging a behavior that has held them back from accomplishing their goals. In fact, there might even be resistance.
Companies bring me in to conduct training programs on improving interpersonal communication skills. Why? Because it usually means that there has been a breakdown in communication within the corporate culture.
The audiences I face come in with their emotional baggage strapped to their back. The lean back in their chairs, arms crossed, head cocked to one side. You can just tell that they are thinking, “Go ahead. Try to impress me.”
I don’t get flustered because I’m not getting the sparkles and rainbows of happiness and approval from the group.
Instead, there is a rush of excitement because a new challenge is being presented. I know that by the end of the training, that defensive, disgruntled audience member is going to be my biggest fan. They might fight me along the way, not giving me much positive feedback, but they are usually the person that comes up to me at the end of the training and says, “I was really surprised at how much I got out of this.”
As a speaker, trainer, coach, or consultant, you are brought in to give out some tough love. Your job is to tell groups things that no one else will.
Your ego can’t shiver any time you get a cold greeting.
In the end it’s worth it.
You’re not their to fill a need that you have. You are there to fill a need they have, whether they realize it at first or not. Therefore, you can’t go to your audience looking for them to give you the feedback you need.
You have to have to draw your strength, energy and charisma from inside yourself from the get-go. They will meet you along the way – even if its a few days later after they’ve had time to absorb the lessons. And when you get the email that says, “Thank you. I get it now,” you won’t care if they applauded that day. Their silence meant change. That’s what matters.