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Tuning into Audience Attitude

Updated: Jun 13, 2022

different facial expressions

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of learning as much as you can about your audience before you prepare your presentation. One more thing to consider is the likely attitude of your audience.

What do we mean by audience attitude? Audience attitude refers to how your audience is feeling. What is their mood? What is their mindset? Have they come with a bias or a point of view about you or your topic?

Many factors play into how audience members feel when listen to your presentation. I am going to focus on two.

First have your audience members chosen to attend your presentation or if they have been mandated to go. Do they want to be there, or do they have to be there? Audience members who have chosen to be present are more likely to be in a positive state of mind than those who didn’t have a choice. And audience members in a positive state of mind are generally easier to please.

The second factor that influences audience attitude is how they view you and your topic. Most people come to a presentation with at least some preconceived ideas about either the topic, the speaker or both. Audience members could potentially be in one of three states of mind regarding your topic:

1. They could agree with your views on the topic, in which case they are "On Your Side."

2. They could be “Impartial” to the topic for one of several reasons:

a. They are uninformed.

b. They are informed but don’t have strong feelings about the topic (Uninterested).

c. Finally, they are informed but have not made up their minds about where they stand on the issue (Undecided).

3. They could strongly disagree with your views on the topic, in which case they could be "Hostile."

You might ask, “Why should I be concerned with the attitude of my audience? I can’t affect it.” The short answer is, “That’s not true.” There are ways to construct and deliver your presentation that can at least acknowledge and possibly influence the attitude or mood of your audience. Below are strategies that can help you play to each of these specific audience types.

1. The On Your Side audience is the easiest to handle. They will be open to your ideas and be looking to support you. Be clear about the next steps and actions you need them to take.

2. Impartial audiences require careful handling because they could go either way (for you or against you). Here are some tips on how to prepare for the three types of Impartial audiences:

  • Uninformed: establish your credibility; use rhetorical questions to put questions in their minds; don’t overwhelm them with too much information; keep your inputs specific and focused

  • Uninterested: help them to visualize the benefits of your idea; tell them what’s in it for them; give specific examples; get them involved by suggesting things they can easily do

  • Undecided: are usually well-informed, so don’t give them more facts; focus on a few selected points and try to change their perception of them; make a “what have you got to lose” proposition

3. The Hostile audience is arguably the most challenging. Here are some tips for handling Difficult and Hostile Audiences

  • Find common ground: start with areas where agreement is likely; divide information into sections; be realistic about what you can achieve; take small steps.

  • Show them you see their point of view: describe their arguments in your words; clearly state the areas of disagreement; don’t exaggerate your point of view or use “absolute” language.

  • Present facts and evidence: refer to experts and authorities; be explicit about where your information comes from; don’t try to convince them overtly; they will fight you.

While it might seem like overkill to try to predict the attitude of your audience, keeping these tips in mind as you prepare your next presentation may increase the likelihood of a successful outcome.

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