The polite audience

Have you ever sat in a totally boring presentation but ended up clapping your hands anyway? Clearly, the applause wasn’t well deserved but you clapped anyway. But why? Out of peer pressure? Pure relief that finally it’s over? Politeness?

It may be polite, but the problem with undeserved applause is that the speaker doesn’t get a chance to grow. She doesn’t get to feel the consequences of a bad performance. She gave her speech. Everyone clapped. Case closed. Everything’s fine.

But what if her real goal wasn’t to get a good round of applause but to change her audience’s minds? To anchor her message in the minds of her audience? She won’t be able to verify that it worked – at least not easily. Was the customer’s decision for or against the project based on the presentation? Was it her speech that led to more employees adopting the new work culture or was it something else? When direct feedback is missing, it’s just hard to tell.

For leaders, this is an even bigger problem. Who wants to be the person to tell the leader how bad her presentation was? On the other hand, everyone likes to praise a great presentation. If it’s a bad one, we’d rather politely remain silent.

But it’s really not a helpful attitude. As a leader you should encourage your team to provide honest feedback. As a group you should agree to give honest feedback. As an audience member, be polite but also help the speaker grow – if that’s what she’s looking for.

And that’s the crucial point. As a speaker, you should be the driving force yourself. If you’re looking to make change happen, then do not wait for others. Do not rest on the status quo. Question yourself and encourage your audience to be honest. Find out who honestly tells you whether your talk is actually great.

And then go make a leap and deliver a talk that changes the world!

(PS: If you’re looking for professional grade feedback, do drop me a note!)

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Dr. Michael Gerharz

Dr. Michael Gerharz