This is a painful story to relate. A few years ago I was one of four speakers at a conference of engineers. It happened to come at a time of huge stress. I was juggling too many balls - speaker, coach, writer, director and Dad. The night before the event I hadn’t slept properly for weeks and then I decided to join one of my fellow speakers for a few drinks which became a lot more drinks. I didn’t sleep.
Next afternoon I was on. 60 minutes. The audience had been nicely warmed up and my first few lines were greeted with gales of laughter. Then it all went wrong. The harder I tried, the worse it got. I was wading through treacle. I knew I wasn’t connecting. I knew I was bombing. So what did I do? I just ploughed on.
So here’s rule number one, when you’re losing or have lost your audience! DO NOT PLOUGH ON.
In stand up it's known as dying - and most of us have done it - whether that's in stand up or presenting. So what do you do when you’re losing other audience and how do you win them back?
1. Accept you’re losing them. It’s already happened. DO NOT PLOUGH ON.
2. Breathe. A single deep breath will give you time to think and alleviate the anxiety.
3. Share your truth and the truth of the room. It’s not working. When you share this truth, you will either be greeted by laughter (good) or silence (good). It can feel like you’re shattering a giant ice wall between you and the audience. It needs to be broken, but the vulnerability and noise in your head at that moment can be scary. Know that it will go.
4. Re-connect. Get them talking. It will take the focus away from yourself (remember they weren’t that keen on you anyway so it will be a break for all concerned!) and help you discover what the room wants and needs.
5. Now you’ve re-connected, you’ve listened and you’ve called out the truth, they should be on your side - or at least more than before.
6. Finally... Now you need to lead. Take charge again and deliver that brilliant presentation.
What happened to me that day? Well, I finally worked out that maybe stopping might be the best way forward. I did reconnect and it did end up OKish. Most importantly I'd learnt a huge lesson which I share today!