Audience 101: Talk with us, not at us

Shortly after the calendar flipped from 2010 to 2011, our family attended our neighborhood’s church for an uplifting Sunday morning service. The music was comforting; the choir was inspiring. I expected the sermon to strike a chord with the audience. Most sermons delivered by our church’s staff are personal, relevant – they leave you walking away with a different perspective on your life and the lives that surround you.

lecturn, podium, pulpit, communication
When the stage is yours, what will you do?

The audience looked at the pastor as she took her usual spot at the pulpit. She began her talk by breaking with tradition. Instead of delivering her message from her usual pulpit perch, she walked down amongst the people. With a small basket in hand, she asked a question that froze the audience:

What do you resolve to be this year?

She then randomly approached a wary churchgoer and instructed him to choose a small slip of paper out of the basket. The unsuspecting person then read from the paper: “I resolve to be a better listener.”

Then she chose a woman from the audience:
“I resolve to serve others.”

The entire church was intently following her every move. Whom would she choose next? How would I respond if I were selected? Some wanted to move to the front of the line to participate; others just wanted to listen and observe. Audience and presenter blended into one united front.

Then she returned to the pulpit to deliver the final 10 minutes of her message where she asked us to think about the year ahead.

But the connection was shattered.
Audience members looked more at their watches than the pastor.
Her message diminished.

She should have stayed in the audience. We were with her as she coached and inspired us to be the best that we can be in 2011. When one person anxiously gripped a piece of paper from her basket, we were alive as all our hands gripped that paper. When she stood back up on the pulpit, a switch flipped from communicating WITH us to communicating AT us.

When presenting, find a vantage point that allows you to connect genuinely and consistently with your audience. We’ll gladly give you our attention and our business.

Until next time,

Dan Naden

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