Speaking can often take you to place you never expected....
I suppose there comes a time in every speaker’s career when we encounter our first hostile audience. Recently, I had my first. Well, in my case, hostile might be a little harsh…semi-hostile perhaps, weird for sure.
Arriving early, I mingled with the crowd of small business owners and settled in at my table to enjoy lunch before being introduced. As the program before my portion unfolded, something felt different than I’d experienced before. In a few minutes, I’d find out my intuition was right.
During my presentation, I told a story about the power of gratitude in building strong business relationships. A woman raised her hand and asked if she could tell a quick story related to my topic. I gave her the go-ahead. She relayed a story about the funeral home that provided the service for her mother who had passed away the year before. The funeral home sent a very personalized Christmas card that first Christmas after her Mom died. The woman said the sentiments expressed were so genuine that she was incredibly touched and she tells everybody about it. I turned to the audience and said, “WOW, isn’t that great? What do you think about that?” A lady in the back of the room shouted…NOTHING! I said, “nothing?” Other audience members spoke up and said they thought it was great. Ms. NOTHING didn’t say anything else and shrunk back in her chair…just that one weird shout-out and she blended back in. I went on.
Then, I tossed out a “nugget” bag to a large, muscular man who looks like he could bench press a Mack Truck. Inside the bag was something for him to read which I would then expand upon. I had a tie on the bag that didn’t open easily. The man struggled with it and finally opened it after about 30 seconds of me tap dancing., so to speak. I ad-libbed, “I guess I won’t toss a bag to a lady if a guy as big as you can’t open that.” A woman shouts out…”THAT’S A SEXIST REMARK.” I replied, “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I commit a faux pas? I thought that generally men are physically stronger than women.” I just went on and Ms. Sexist Remark blended back in…just one weird shout-out from her too.
I should have known better by now but when I was done I opened the floor for Q and A. A gentleman raised his hand. I called on him, expecting a question. He said….”YOUR HANDWRITING IS TERRIBLE.” I replied, “You’re right. There are lots of people who agree with you. You could start a club. Any other questions?” There were no others.
Afterwards, as I was walking to my car a gentleman approached me and apologized for the crowd….said he didn’t know what had gotten into them, that they weren’t usually like that. The next day, a lady from the audience emailed me and said almost the same thing.
My reactions came from my gut but the techniques can be used again and again. I reacted three different ways instinctively. In the instance of the NOTHING SHOUTER I did nothing, had little reaction. With the SEXIST SHOUT-OUT woman I took her on head-on. The “YOUR HANDWRITING IS TERRIBLE” Q and A Guy, was deflected with humor.
It’ll be interesting to see how this helps me deal with future similar situations. I am more confident in my ability to handle a difficult crowd. I successfully used three separate techniques:
1. Do nothing
2. Meet it head-on
3. Deflect with humor.
After a while I’ll probably be able to go through my first, second, and third options quickly like a good
quarterback going over his receiver options. Practice makes us better so I’m grateful to each of my SHOUT OUTS for the practice they provided.