Warming Up The Audience Before Delivering Your Message

Regardless of the setting, whether I’m leading a workshop, lobbying or speaking at an event, I always warm up my audience before delivering my message. When they’re warm, I’m hot.

A Story from the Field

The CEO of the large pharmaceutical company was anxious to meet with an Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM).  His company had considerable concerns around a regulatory process and he wanted to share their proposals towards addressing that challenge.  He knew that in the weeks prior to his meeting there had been quite a bit of bad press about the ADM’s program. What’s more, the bad press was the result of accusatory comments levelled directly at the ADM by another pharmaceutical company.  It was of little surprise to the CEO when he was only granted 30 minutes for the meeting, and even less of a surprise when 30 minutes was reduced to 15 minutes once he arrived.

Rather than launching into his proposal, he started the meeting by explaining that he understood the challenges the department faced.  He explained that he thought the press coverage unfair since it did nothing to contribute to an open dialogue between his industry and the department.  The ADM who had started the meeting with her hands folded across her chest and her lips tightly pursed, slowly began to relax.  When her assistant came into the meeting to get her after 15 minutes, the ADM shook her head and the meeting proceeded. By the time the CEO explained that his company funded a group of independent scientists who would be available for an exchange program with the department due to their specialized knowledge, 45 minutes had elapsed. The ADM was leaning forward attentively and asking how the scientists were chosen and how the exchange might work. The meeting ended after an hour and there were smiles all around.

As government relations exercises go, I have rarely been so impressed with a client for turning what could have been a disaster into a triumph. When we were told we had 15 minutes I wasn’t sure if he would stay or walk out, but he was made of sterner and smarter stuff.  It’s a lesson that has stayed with me.

Four tips for managing first meetings:

  • Do your homework. Understand what challenges and opportunities face your audience.
  • Assume nothing about your audience’s knowledge of you; make sure your position/attitude is clearly stated at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Read the body language of the person you are meeting with and respond to it.
  • Establish rapport before trying to deliver your pitch.

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Handling Hecklers

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12 responses to “Warming Up The Audience Before Delivering Your Message

  • It’s so important to be aware of the perspective of your audience. Building rapport before asking anything at all is crucial in any fruitful conversation. Great example!

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      July 23, 2018 @ 09:54 am

      It always comes back to understanding your audience. It sits at the heart of all effective communications.

  • Catarina says:
    July 4, 2018 @ 09:50 am

    For some reason people in the West are not keen on “wasting time” on small talk but want to go straight to the point. In the Middle East though they understand the value of warming up their audience or the person they are meeting. Needless to say they have the upper hand when a Westerner is negotiating with them. Because as much as Westerners dislike small talk it works to warm them up.

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      July 23, 2018 @ 09:53 am

      Well said. Small talk is a talent I’m working to improve. Its harder than it seems to accomplish, but when you spend time with people who are good at it they make it seem so effortless. I think it comes down to being genuinely curious about people.

  • Excellent post, Debra! Your client was indeed a very skilled negotiator. Taking the steps you mention, and being capable and flexible enough to alter a presentation on the fly is a skill we all wish we could use well.

    • Debra Yearwood says:
      July 23, 2018 @ 09:50 am

      Thanks, Doreen. I’ve rarely been in such an awkward meeting, but since then whenever things get loaded in a meeting I remember his patience and focus.

  • Warming up your audience shows you are human and breaks down barriers. Your audience will connect with you and therefore have an interest in what you have to say. Nobody likes to be spoken at, they want to be spoken to.

  • Makes a lot of sense to warm up your audience! I will have to keep this in mind when I do my next blog talk in the summer. I do try to read my audience – I have learned that what I think as obvious is not so in the minds of my listeners.

  • ballnchainz says:
    April 26, 2014 @ 07:20 pm

    This is Jay,

    I have witnessed some one turn a hostile room around before and it is a very impressing thing. I. Have also had customers (managers) apologize to me for believing the lies that their workers spread against my team and I. That one felt good after I just had to stand there and take the blame for what was going wrong.

  • I thought I had left a comment but it doesn’t show… Sigh! Here is is again.

    It really takes skill to do something like right. Most would have folded or failed. It’s obvious there was experience along with confidence in his subject matter at work here. Just my thoughts. 🙂

    • He was a very smart man and understood that if he was to ever reach his objectives he’d have to get past the anger. It was funny to watch the meeting continue to unfold.

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