Dont Offend The Audience!

by Stephen Boyd | August 31, 2003

No speaker intends to annoy an audience, but in most speaking situations someone is just waiting to be offended. What can the speaker do to avoid offending an audience? Here are some suggestions to keep disgruntled listeners at a minimum and to stay in the good graces of the audience.

Always be concerned about time. Be present early for your speaking engagement. The person in charge of the program will be relived to see the speaker there with time to spare. Audience members who see you before your scheduled time will be impressed. Also, don't go overtime with your presentation. If you are to speak 30 minutes, never speak 35 minutes. In fact, stop at 28 minutes. Show respect for the time of the listeners.

Pronounce proper nouns correctly. Check ahead of time to make certain you know how to pronounce the name of the organization you are speaking to, key names of people in the group you will be conversing with, and any buzz words the audience may have in common. If you are speaking in an unfamiliar town, check out the pronunciation based on how the people who live there pronounce their city name. For instance Layfayette, Tennessee, is La FAY ette and Lafayette, Indiana, is La fay ETTE.

Have new and relevant information. Audiences are more intelligent and more demanding than ever before. Before you speak, find out the group’s knowledge level on your topic. A speaker has a responsibility to stay current with findings connected to speech content and share that with audiences.

Be pleasant but not pushy in the way you interact with the audience members before and after you speak. Don't be demanding if the room is not set up the way you want it or the public address system is not quite like you prefer. Be willing to go with the flow and adapt the best you can. In talking to individuals before and after the presentation, be a good listener by asking open-ended questions that engage the listener. Don't reinforce the speaker stereotype that all speakers monopolize conversations. Be sincere and pleasant as you relate to the audience members one-on-one.

Finally, be very careful of poking fun at people in the audience. Even if the program chair points out someone who could be the object of a joke or one-liner because he or she is a jokester, think twice before doing it. Someone might be offended if you do. Be safe by only making fun of yourself.

Especially if you are speaking to a large audience, you cannot predict the context each member is coming from; thus the possibility of alienating someone can't be avoided. Keeping these principles in mind, however, will help to win your audience over.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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