Friday, October 14, 2011

4 Types of Audience Tension or A Review from an Evening with Ed Tate

Wednesday night, I attended a 90 minute training session by the 2000 Toastmasters World Champion of Public Speaking, and CSP, Ed Tate. He covered a myriad of topics very well, as was expected, and I enjoyed hearing him deliver in person what I have heard from him multiple times in audio format.

While I had heard most of his information before, he did bring up one gem I hadn't - the Four Types of Audience Tension. 

1. Audience v. Presenter. It could be a question of whether or not the presenter is any good, or, in my case last night, wondering if I'd hear anything new. Ed tackled this right away with most of the audience by giving a Toastmaster formatted speech to showcase his abilities in front of the primarily TM audience. He took care of my concern about 3/4 of the way through, with this information. Bear in mind, of course, I wasn't his target audience - I'm already a fan.

Other tension in this vein can come when the presenter is a superior in your company, an outsider coming into your environment, or even just someone you don't like.  What are you doing to overcome that initial tension with your audiences? Grabbing their attention is a good start.

2. Audience v. Audience. You may or may not be familiar with those around you, and each presents potential issues. Will you end up in too many side remarks and conversations with friends and co-workers? Are you so uncomfortable with new people you'll be focusing on what the people around you are thinking instead of focusing on the speaker?

Ed handled this well, getting us to work together a few minutes 2 or 3 times during the night, but also by holding our attention throughout his presentation. He used props, threw a toy into the audience to give someone permission to speak, gave us physical gestures to imitate to drive home a point, and changed up his topics quickly to keep us on the edge of our seats.

3. Audience v. Materials. Do you distract your audience with handouts? Rely on Power Point? Remember growing up, when you'd be juggling notetaking with reading the book with watching the board? Tough to do. Keep your materials short, simple, and supportive to your speech.

Ed used a flip chart to track ideas on, and had some Champions Edge cards passed out, but neither played a large part in the presentation. He kept our focus on HIM, and his message.

4. Audience v. Environment. Too hot? Too cold? Bad seating? Bad sight lines? The longer it takes for an audience member to settle in and be comfortable focusing on the speaker, the bigger the chance something important may be missed.

We met in the back area of a popular pizza joint, and it was LOUD. Just half walls between us and the rest of the diners. Ed had a sound system, so the diners likely had to/got to hear him as well, and he did manage to be loud enough for the 50 people in the group. Other distractions included the diners behind him, and, of course, the food. He chose to speak from the one spot people needed to go through to get to the buffet, which kept the audience a bit captive. Not sure if that was intentional. It created a couple of mini-rushes to the Pizza Bar during his 'discuss with your table' moments.

Before I left, I asked Ed if I could include this information in my blog today. He mentioned that he actually got it from someone else, though he wasn't sure who. A little research shows he may seen or heard it from Tony Jeary - who he did mention for other info in his presentation. This makes for an interesting lesson in and of itself.

No matter how much we may want to give credit where credit is due, eventually material just becomes part of what we deliver. We must still be cautious not to steal both concept and delivery, but just the concepts delivered from our own perspective. If we can credit someone, great. Still, if we had to annotate where we learned what, half of our speech would be in footnotes. Specialize in making conceptual material specific to you through your delivery.

For my part, I think there's two other Types of Audience Tension.

5. Audience v. Technology. It used to be pagers, then 'Crackberry's', then cel phones. Now it's Smart Phones, offering us a mini-computer to distract us even as it threatens to ring, buzz, or emit sounds from Angry Birds at any moment.

Ed mentioned that he's seen presenters make this work for them by using a stretch break to encourage folks to Twitter or Facebook about the event. Books have been written about using the Twitter Backchannel for a presentation. Personally, I'd prefer phones just get shut off, or left in the car. Society rules, however, so be ready for anything, and learn how to channel it for good!

6. Audience v. Themselves. As an audience member, you are battling your own thoughts and emotions. You may have had a bad day. Your back might be hurting. You could be hungry. You mind can be on a million other things, even if you really WANT to hear the speaker.

Ed did a strong job of keeping our attention by switching up delivery style, as well as calling us back from breaks with clapping and, I believe, a train whistle. Getting your audience focused on a singular task for a few moments, like a puzzle or other visual game can be useful coming back from breaks as well. We must become masters at holding our audiences attention if we are to truly Speak & Deliver.

Overall, it was a fun evening that succeeded in its goals to support District 26 Toastmasters, welcome Ed Tate back to Colorado (if he ever actually finalizes his move...), and disseminate some great tips on public speaking. Oh, and the Beau Jo's Pizza was good too :)

Thanks to D26's Lt. Governor Tom Hobbs and speaking legend Joe Sabah for making this night with Ed Tate happen.


  1. EXCELLENT! I'm glad you finally got to see Ed in person. This IS a new topic for him -- I can't wait to see it myself! LOL

    ~ Cynthia



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