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Our Audience – Friend or Foe?

May 30, 2019

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or a hostile universe.”  Albert Einstein

Homework for actors in a play or musical often begins by clearly defining his/her relationship with every other character on stage.  Do I like, love, hate, respect, admire, or loathe this person, and how does he or she feel about me?  Defining the relationships between characters informs how an actor will relate to them in scenes through body language, tone of voice, eye contact, etc., and gives the audience key information about what’s going on.  This is how an actor takes ownership of their character and part in the story.

Identify the Audience

In public speaking, it’s just us and the audience.  Because the audience plays a central role in our production, it is a good idea to ask ourselves how we really see the audience.  As friend or foe?  A neutral character to be swayed, a room full of vipers, fans, or a mixture of all?  Understanding how we view the audience helps us figure out what kind of subtle or not-so-subtle energy we’re bringing to the room and sharing with our audience. 

Manage Negativity Bias

I’ve had clients who described toxic environments and people looking for the opportunity to tear them down.  I don’t doubt that these people exist.  And yet like moths to a flame, we’re easily distracted by what is negative, allowing it to eclipse everything else.  Negativity bias is hard-wired into us as a survival tool.  We’re on the lookout for perceived threats and focus on them whether or not our life is in danger.  Knowing this allows us to recalibrate and make choices that better serve our needs.  My feeling is that the room is a mixture of characters, most of whom are either our supporters or neutral.  This means that we have the choice to change the story based on our perception and rewrite it in our favor. 

Focus on Friends

If we focus on a few toxic people, we allow them to control the room and our presentation.  If we find and focus on our friends, in or outside of the room, we can draw on their support, change the story and tip it in our favor to take better care of ourselves mentally and physically.  That ultimately changes what we bring to our audience and is more likely to turn neutral characters into supporters.  

The support we have is likely far greater than the toxic people who enjoy seeing us fail.  Focusing on that support, even if it’s one person, has the power to alter the whole show.  It’s our play, and we get to shape and take ownership of a story that works for us or against us in every moment. 

Try this:  Before your talk or presentation, introduce yourself to people you don’t know, greet people that you think may not be on your side and make sure that you find your supporters.  Never underestimate the power of the personal connection.  Sharing a little love goes a long way.

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