I recently read a couple of articles about a Google executive who walked out of a conference 30 minutes before he was scheduled to speak.
The reason – there were only about fifty people in attendance to hear his speech. His excuse for walking out…he doesn’t speak to small groups.
If you would like to read a couple of full versions of the story, click on these links:
As I read these articles, I could feel a sense of outrage welling up. In my opinion, what this speaker did was show a total lack of respect or concern for his audience and the conference organizers. The behavior that this individual displayed (storming out of the conference hall) was extremely unprofessional and egotistical.
No matter how many people are in your audience, remember that they are taking valuable time out of their lives to hear you speak. I view speaking engagements as transactions. As a speaker, you are there to give them the “gift” of your information or entertainment in exchange for the time they are giving you. To deny your part of the transaction, especially for what I would consider petty reasons, shows a lack of respect and integrity.
No matter the size of the audience…whether it is five thousand, five hundred, or five…if we agree to show up and speak (sign contracts, shake hands, or whatever is used for agreement), we should stick to our word and deliver our message. If there are any discrepancies, they should be covered in your contract, or you should take them up with the host.
Don’t punish the audience!
There is something else to consider before doing something like walking out on your audience…the power and speed of social media. Before you set one foot outside the conference hall, news of your abandonment can already be in the public eye. A quick tweet or Facebook post could be making its way out into the world. Can you afford the bad publicity? I would imagine the answer is “NO!” Imagine how much work it would take to turn that negativity around. Some people never make a comeback from that kind of negative press!
If you are ever faced with a smaller than expected audience:
- Remember that the people that are attending have fulfilled their part of the transaction by showing up to hear you speak. Have the integrity to fulfill your part!
- You can ask the audience to move in a little closer to your speaking area to create a more intimate setting. If they seem hesitant to move, offer them a “reward” for moving closer (i.e. small token, product, or even chocolate – which works for me!)
- If you are able, make your presentation a little more “conversational” with your audience – maybe avoid using your PowerPoint, or allow opportunities for questions or conversation with audience members. This can make the experience a little more memorable to them, because of the added value.
- Last, reframe the situation. This, and every opportunity you have to speak is another chance to gain “face time” with the public, as well as a chance to practice and improve your material in front of a live audience.
There is always a chance that sometime in your speaking adventures, you will encounter a crowd that is smaller than expected. Remember…honor and respect your audience by holding up your end of the bargain. Look at it as an opportunity to gain experience that will help you improve and become an even better presenter in the future!
For more information on how to improve your presentations, and for some interesting stories and insights on public speaking, get a copy of Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker. (As a matter of fact, a couple of the suggestions were inspired by his book!) Just click on the picture below to order the book now!