Inadvertently offending – even enraging - your audience happens more often than many people think. When it happens, it’s hugely embarrassing. Most public speakers have done it once… and they do all they can to avoid it ever again.
Why did she say that?!
In most audiences, there is someone just waiting to be offended. Here’s how to keep the audience on your side.
Know how to pronounce any word connected with the organisation. If you mention someone in the audience, make sure you know how to pronounce their name. The name of the city where you are speaking, the company, and product lines are examples of words whose pronunciation you need to check before you say them.
When President Kennedy was speaking in Berlin in 1963, shortly after the Berlin Wall went up, his efforts to connect with his audience began with, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” He intended to assure the people that he, too, was a citizen of Berlin. Unfortunately, to the locals, a “Berliner” was, primarily, a jam donut.
Resistance is useless. If you know you are going to be discussing an issue that will get resistance from the audience, early in the presentation you should stress areas where you do agree. For example, company profits are important both to the hourly-paid worker and the CEO; but the method of reaching those profits may not seem the same for both. Talk first about profit management.
Be sensitive to themes that the audience may feel very strongly about. If you are speaking in Manchester, for example, you’d do best to avoid taking sides between Manchester United and Manchester City. Wisdom dictates that you avoid jokes about either. As former Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly put it, “Football’s not a matter of life and death … it’s more important than that.”
If in doubt, don’t say it. Don’t swear, even jokingly. And don’t ridicule an occupation or socio-economic background.
Learn as much as possible about the audience ahead of time so you won’t inadvertently insult them because you’re unaware of a problem they face. There’s no point crowing about a competitor’s problems if your audience knows that their company is also in big trouble.
Don’t apologize for your lack of preparation or depth of content. Audiences will find that out on their own soon enough!