Month: November 2016

Does an audience have feelings?

Of course they do. Everyone in an audience has their own feelings and emotions, which is why you as a speaker should not be discouraged if, say, 99% give you a “5” on the evaluation and 1% give you a “1”.
That 1% perhaps had a bad day, just found out his wife cheated on them, had a ex-boy friend who looked like you or what ever reason put them in a bad mood on the day you did your talk.

But does an audience have a collective mood?

That is a more interesting question.

Group dynamics is an interesting thing. The fact that a demonstration can suddenly turn violent for no apparent reason. The positive energy that is generated in a football audience when someone decides to start the “wave”.

No matter how much we like to think of ourselves as individuals, we are also often just a small part of a big group.

And a group has its own “personality” – let’s call it “groupality”.

As a speaker it is very important to get a feel of how the audience is feeling as a group, because the mood of the audience is going to effect the quality of your speech.

And sometimes it can be really tricky to get a feel of the “groupality” of a group.

Today I was speaking to 3000 people in Istanbul at a big retail conference where almost all attendees where from Turkey.

There was a positive vibe in the room from the energy that comes from retailers focused on expansion in a dynamic and developing part of the world.
But at the same time there was this negative vibe that comes from living in a country that in the recent months had seen serious terrorists attacks, a failed military coup, a refugee disaster flowing over its borders and a political climate that is anything but positive.

From the stage at the conference there was one speaker talking about the need for national unity and then the next minute a speaker talking about how Shell had implemented nice toilets for children. Dual messages of optimism and pessimism was colliding and it made it very difficult to read the audience as a group.

Now, normally the mood of a group is not so diverse or divided as it was at the conference I spoke at in Istanbul today.

But this extreme example reminded me of the need to always try to get a feel of the audience.

– You need to do it before you speak (how are they reacting to what is happening on stage when others are speaking?)
– As you walk up and speak (how are they reacting to you as you walk up?)
– While you are speaking (how are they reacting to what you are saying?)

Some speakers say that you should “pick an audience member” who looks friendly and nice and speak to him or her.

I try to avoid that and instead try to think of the audience as one, big, living organism. A giant, wild, but mostly friendly beast that you constantly need to monitor so you can avoid to awaken its anger.
Trust me, you do not want to make an audience turn on you.

But treat it with the respect it deserves, be friendly and non threatening and constantly monitor it and you will see that an audience – just like a lion – can be a fantastically beautiful creature that you can somehow get to do what you want, even if it is actually stronger and more powerful than you.


Speaker war story about how to handle being sick when being a speaker.

I have been a little under the weather on and off for the last few months.. The funny thing is that it has been coming and going and always when I feel I am getting better, I became worse again. I guess it is a mixture of “airplane flu” from flying a lot and of “kindergarten flu” from having two kids bringing home all kinds of germs from their classmates

But generally it has not slowed me down. But a while back I was hit by something else.

I boarded the plane tofeeling a bit sick. On the plane I started to feel worse.

The first leg of my journey was an agonising 8 hours journey from hell with a blistering headaches that no migraine medicine had any effect on.

On the second leg I started to feel even worse.

I must have looked really sick as 5 (!) different crew members approached me to check if I was ok and one of them even came running with a thermometer – that happened to show that I had not only a bad migraine but also 38.7 C fever.

For the whole 15 hour duration of my trip (including transfers) from Singapore to Europe I must have slept 13 hours.

When I arrived t my destination the night before my speech the crew had prepared a wheel chair (!) for me as I exited the plane.

My male pride prevented my from accepting it – but after walking, what felt like 5 km of airport corridors I started to regret that choice.

When checked into my hotel room I went straight to bed and continued to sleep.

Then it got worse.

I woke up in the middle of the night by my bed being SOAKED in sweat (we are talking wet as in being dropped into a bathtub) And not only one side of the bed, but both sides of the queens size bed …

I got up and got some big towels to lie on to sleep on something dry.

A few hours later I had to get up again and get a new set of towels.

I was scheduled to speak at 9 am. and due to do a sound check at 7 am.

Amazingly, I woke up at 6.30 feeling 100% ready to go!

I got ready, did my sound check and delivered a speech that the audience and the client was very happy with.

How does that happen?

I still do not know.

Like i wrote in a recent blog post, it seems like the body is “aware” of when it can be sick – and when it has to function.
I am very happy it all worked out great yet again.


Being a professional speaker is a privileged profession. When we are not on stage our work is extremely flexible and we can choose to take off time in the middle of the day to pick up our kids from school, go see a lunch-time-movie – or go take a nap for a few hours because we are feeling tired.

But when we are scheduled to be on stage we better all fired up to perform.

That means we have to really learn to master the art of saving, channeling and focusing our energy.

I am very, very glad that I was able to do that on my recent trip to Europe. A trip that had me at 1% energy for 20 hours of travelling – and at 100% energy for that one hour I was on stage. (Then it went back to 10% energy again flying home…)


If a stand-up comedian wants feedback on his or her routine he/she can ask people in the audience, or he can ask another comedian.

The feedback will be quite different.

If a musician asks an audience member for feedback, or a fellow musician, again the feedback will be quite different.

And if a movie director ask a bunch of movie goers about how to make a movie better he or she will get totally different feedback than if the question goes to fellow movie directors.

The feedback from the peers will be deeper, more specific and on a different level. Expert talking to expert will generate expert feedback.

That is why I am so surprised why not more speakers ask other speakers for feedback.

I try to do it as often as I can.


Today I did it in Taipei, Taiwan where I was speaking at the he Asia Pacific Conference for the Association for Talent Development. A few days ago I found out that a speaker friend of mine, Coen Tan, was going to attend my speech and he wrote to on Facebook “I will get a front seat”. I thanked him but asked him to instead take a seat in the very BACK of the room. Because if you sit in the back of the room you can evaluate not only the speaker, but also the reactions of the audience.

I then asked Coen to observe my speech and take notes.

After the speech we sat down in a café and Coen gave his perspective on my content, my delivery and my message.

He had some very good ideas around how I could rephrase a few of my stories for more impact. Ideas that I definitely will implement.

Hearing his comments it was so clear how different feedback from a fellow speaker is from feedback from “normal” audience members.

It is my experience that non-speaker-feedback tends to be very positive (“Oh, it was amazing!) or focused on something negative: “You said X, and did not like that” or “You do Y and it annoyed me.”.

It is my experience that speaker feedback is more focused on small improvements and suggestions on how to tweak and change the speech, the stories or the delivery to make it even better.

A non-speaker comes from the perspective: “I as an audience like/did not like X.”

A fellow speaker comes from the perspective: “If this was my speech I would do X.”

That makes speaker feedback more constructive.

Lesson: So the next time you get a chance to have a fellow speaker in the audience, grab him or her and ask them to help you make your speech better.

Feed on feedback.


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