Today I will write about why you as a speaker should speak to the back of the room, but network with the first row if you want to succeed both with your speech and your speaking business.
The reason you speak to the people sitting in the back of the room is that they are the most critical and sceptical people in an audience. Remember how, when you were in school, the “tough guys” would sit in the back, right hand corner of the classroom? It’s the same with an audience of adults at work. When you realise that you understand that you need to focus your attention on the back rows. If you get the “sceptical and critical crowd” against you everything becomes harder during the speech, and the evaluations of your speech will go down, because the people in the back will influence the rest in a negative way.
Another reason to speak to the back of the room is that the further away an audience member is from the speaker, the less obliged they tend feel to pretend to be paying attention. It’s always the people in the back who are the first to pick up their phones and check Facebook if they find the speaker boring, for example.
If you can keep the people in the last few rows inspired, engaged and happy the chances are very big that the group as a whole will like the speech.
(This, of course, doesn’t mean that you ignore the rest of the room, it’s all about understanding who in a group you have to have on your side.)
The metaphor you can use it to think of your message as water – If you focus on sprinkling water on the people in the front of the room, the people in the back will not get wet, but if you try to sprinkle the people in the back the people in the front will get wet as well.
While the people in the back might be the most important to catch during the speech, the people on the first row are the ones you need to focus your attention on before and after your speech.
So who sits on the first row during a speech? The funny way to answer that question is “no-one”. It is amazing how the first row so often is mostly empty – it’s like people are afraid to sit there because they think they might be pulled up on stage or something. In a concert people love to stand in the front row, during a speech most people try to avoid the front row.
But even if the front row is mostly empty it is still the “VIR” – the “Very Important Row”.
And that is because the people who do tend to sit on the first row are the VIPs, the top management, the most important people in the room. And those are the people you want to network with as a speaker.
The good thing is that you as a speaker also sit on the front row before your speech, since the organisers want to know where you are before you go up and speak (makes them comfortable), so that is easy for you to get up on stage (convenient for you) – and because you are seen as a VIP (enjoy the special treatment that comes with this job.)
So when you sit there and wait for your speaking slot to begin make sure you talk to the other people next to you. Those are the senior leaders who will book you for other speaking assignments if you do a good job.
Today, for example, I was speaking at the Prudential Learning Festival in Singapore. A few hundred people had gathered in the auditorium for a day of learning. I was the opening keynote speaker, after a short introduction by the CEO.
Before the speech I was sitting in the front row talking to the CEO chatting about his vision for the company. A couple of other people come up and sat next to us. I could tell they were senior leaders by their body language and confident presence and leaned over to introduce myself. I also got up and got two copies of the five copies of my book that I had planned to give away during the speech and give those two copies to the bosses.
We chatted for a while before the conference begun and one of them said: “Oh, so you are the speaker, I thought perhaps you were from the global HQ because I had not seen you before.” (A perfect example of how people think that the people who sit on the first row must be a VIP and since he did not know me he assumed I was from global HQ.)
I delivered my speech and it went well.
Two days later I get an email from the assistant of one of the two bosses who says: “My boss heard you speak two days ago and wants to book you for another conference that he is organising two weeks from now. Please confirm your availability.”
Just like that. Another booking. Without even asking about the fee.
Would I have gotten the booking without introducing me to the bosses before my speech? Most likely, but let’s just say it did not hurt.
The thing to remember is that you network with the VIP but you speak to the whole group, because no matter how much the bosses likes your speech, they still will not book you again if the feedback from the group was not positive.
So win the group. But talk to the people on the Very Important Row.