We assume, with ample justification, that audiences have a limited attention span. They are easily distracted and quickly bored.
We assume, rightly, that it is our responsibility as speakers to prepare, rehearse, and deliver a speech that engages our audience’s interest and involvement.
But we assume, wrongly in my opinion, that a speech’s success depends entirely on our efforts.
A speech is like a conversation. It only “works” if both parties participate.
Yes, as speakers, we work harder than the audience does. We’re the ones, after all, who did the research, formulated the message, rehearsed, and–if you’re like me–obsessed about it and lost sleep over it in the days (sometimes weeks) before. We’re the ones who put ourselves on display, risking an anxiety attack and rejection.
But we have the right to expect something of our audiences in return. As speakers we do more of the work, but for a speech to succeed audiences have to do some of the work.
Two things happen when we expect little or nothing from an audience. And they’re both disastrous.
First, as speakers we tie ourselves up in knots. We work way too hard. And the strain makes us less spontaneous, less engaging, less alert and able to respond to what’s happening in the moment.
Second, we allow audiences to stay disengaged, making them less willing to take action.
The goal of any speech is, after all, to move the audience to act. If they’re not willing to give you their attention at the start, they surely won’t give you their cooperation at the end.
I expect a lot of myself as a speaker. I’ve noticed, over the years, that I get a better response from audiences when I expect more from them.
What’s your experience?