(Graphic by Vector Graphics)
Public speaking and presentation clients sometimes ask me how to handle hostile audiences. Frankly, I think people project more negativity onto audiences than is really there. Never the less, it is important to learn to stand openly before a group that includes people who may be judging, disagreeing or criticizing. I have three techniques to help transform a situation that involves hostile audiences.
First, allow people their own perspective and point of view. Give audience members permission to disagree with you, even to feel angry. Practice being like Teflon at the center of attention. Don’t let anything stick to you. Don’t make it about you personally, so there is nothing to defend. Instead, be open to hear their thoughts and allow the disagreement to exist without expecting them all to agree. Be curious about their perspectives. Think or say, “Wow! I can understand your perspective. Tell me more.”
Second, look for a nurturing person in the audience and draw support from him or her. Realize that groups of people organize themselves in a balanced way. In any group, there will be someone who takes a supportive position and who will be seeing you with positive regard. Someone will be looking at you with the eyes of love and acceptance. Look around the room, find the person who is beaming support through his or her eyes and drink deeply of their attention. Allow yourself to feel their nurturing support.
Third, practice using a soft eye contact to see people in the group. Soft eye contact allows you to see people through the eyes of love and acceptance. Allow your eyes to become relaxed and slightly unfocused. Gently land your eyes on one person at a time, taking their attention in as though you are receiving their flow of attention and giving them permission to be who he or she is. This soft way of seeing people changes the quality of connection, sometimes even causing others to soften their approach to you. Because you are not resisting people, they can relax and soften as well.
None of us wants to speak in a hostile situation, but sometimes we must do so. These three techniques can help you transform the experience from confrontive to receptive. And that is hugely important in opening lines of communication in all aspects of life and business.