5 Presentation tips to connect with a tough audience

bored audience

Have you had to manage a tough audience in a business presentation?

You may have considered them a tough audience because:

– They have more experience than you do of the topic you are about to speak on

– There are a number of dissenters in the room

– Of a negative emotional charge in the room

– You may be asked difficult or even hostile questions

Facing a tough audience can feel quite daunting and leave you feeling vulnerable.

Every audience needs 5 things from a presenter

Unless we give them all 5, we are unlikely to make a genuine and lasting connection; especially if they are a tough audience.

 1. Focus

The first key to success is focusing exclusively on your audience.

Long before you begin crafting your presentation, focus on:

Building empathy

What do you have in common with your audience and what do they care about?

What’s it like to be in their shoes and what do they need from you?

Putting them at ease

By demonstrating that you know what it is you are talking about and that you care.

The facts

Give them the facts and do so quickly and clearly.

Your message

Craft a compelling message which will make their lives better, easier, happier or positively different.


Cut out the jargon and long winded explanations. Make sure everything you say is completely relevant to them.


Anticipate the challenging questions; especially the ones you dread.

Making a difference

Don’t set out to impress or be perfect; focus only on helping your audience.

The evidence

Anticpate their doubts, concerns and grievances by demonstrating you’ve thought about it all and have answers.

 2. Feelings

The second key to success is helping your audience to feel something.

That means connecting with them on an emotional level.

Feelings are evoked by:

– Sharing true, relevant and powerful stories.

– Powerful anecdotes and metaphors.

– Thought provoking questions.

– Humour, surprise and even a little drama or suspense.

– Energy, enthusiasm and excitement.

– Compelling content.

– Using emotional language.

– Vulnerability.

– Helping your audience to use their imaginations.

Don’t let them just passively listen and acknowledge your words, help them to feel something too.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

 3. Vision

Over 30 years ago, a former boss and mentor of mine once told me something I have used to extraordinary effect over the years,

“The only people who need to be motivated are the people who can’t see a future.”

I didn’t fully appreciate it in the moment but they have probably been the most impactful words ever shared with me in business.

Those words are critically important for every presenter

It’s every presenters job to help their audience to see the future.

The clearer the image is of the future, the less fear, doubt and confusion there is for the audience.

We need to share a compelling vision.

That means giving our audience the big picture of how our message will really help them.

What difference it will make to their personal or professional lives.

4. Brevity

Many business presentations are simply far too long.

These are the business presentations overloaded with unecessary and irrelevant information.

 ‘Less is more’

– Edit, edit, edit: If it doesn’t completely support your message or is totally relevant, cut it out of your presentation.

– Short and simple: Don’t use 20 words if you can say it in 6. Ditch the jargon, acronyms and cliches.

– Give your audience only what they need, no more.

– Think like Twitter: focus on your point with laser like clarity.

5. Questions

It is always possible that someone may ask a question you don’t know the answer to.

When it happens, don’t do what many presenters do, which is to take a step backwards, drop their eyes and shrug their shoulders.

This is your moment to shine rather than retreat:

– Step forward and lean into the question.

– Take a breath, pause for  moment and make eye contact.

– Don’t just make eye contact with the person who asked the question, share it with everyone.

– As you do, be very honest that you don’t know the answer but make a commitment to find out.

– Have the courage to ask if anyone else knows the answer (if appropriate).

Hostile questions

These are quite rare of course but every now and then you may come across one.

If you feel the questioner wants to draw you into an argument, don’t succumb to it.

If you are satisfied that you answered their question to the best of your ability and there is nothing more you can add try this instead:

–  Listen very closely and carefully to the point they are trying to make.

–  No matter how small it may be, find something in their words you can sincerely agree with. In other words, you may not like it but you know something makes sense.

– Agree with that small point that you acknowledge makes sense and that you can at least agree with.

– Shut up and don’t say another word.

If you need help presenting to a tough audience:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Image: Courtesy of Canva.com



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