Everyone who has ever spoken to a group larger than 3 knows what it is lose your audience while you are speaking. Also anyone who has ever been part of an audience knows what it is to become lost by the speaker. There are some things that will always contribute to losing any audience to whom you are speaking.
Speak to people who are not there – Speakers sometimes think more about their message than who will hear the message. If you do not consider who you will be speaking to you may miss your whole audience. If your message is geared for another group, the group in front of you will be lost. If you don’t adjust you will speak to someone who is obviously not in attendance, and those who are present will be lost quickly.
Do not have a Central Point – If you do not have a memorable central theme you will lose your audience. This may take a little longer to lose them than some things you could do, but you will lose your audience if there is nothing that can define what you are saying. Granted, you may have more than one point, or key, but you must have a memorable central theme. Without this, not only will you lose your audience while you are speaking you will continue to lose them after you finish. They will say something like, “I never got exactly what he/she was trying to say”.
Talk down to your audience – It is one thing to let your audience know you are competent, it is quite another to come across as the expert who is lowering themselves to speak to this audience. You may need to explain things that your audience may not understand, but you can do this in a way that does not appear to be condescending. No one likes to be talked down to, and if you do this you will lose your audience. Not only will you lose them for this moment, but they will be unlikely to listen to you in the future as well.
Fail to read your audience – When speaking, you must continually read your audience. Look for clues as to whether you are being understood and whether or not the audience has checked out. Facial expressions can tell you a lot about whether or not you are connecting. Some groups are harder to read than others. As a speaker you must be a student of your audience. For a Pastor the advantage is that you speak to the same basic group week after week, so you can really begin to know your audience. Watch to see if they seem to be listening? Are they leaning in or slumped back? Are there a lot of other things taking their attention? Then you must adjust accordingly.
Being unprepared – I don’t think this one needs much explanation, does it?
Speaking past the comfort of your audience – There is an old axiom that a speaker should “never speak longer than the rear end of your audience can endure”. It may not be politically correct but it is wise advice. I try to find out what length is expected before I speak and then do my best not to go past that time. When you ignore the comfort of your listeners you do so at your own peril.
Use illustrations that are inaccurate or don’t apply to your audience – If you are inaccurate you will lose people quickly. If you attempt to use illustrations that are not applicable to your audience they will check out after a couple of them and assume that everything else you are saying is not relevant.
If you are speaking you do not want to lose your audience. They are why you are speaking. If they are not then go speak to an empty room. Learn to read the signs and avoid the pitfalls that lead to losing your audience. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you will lose an audience. Learn from it and do your best to avoid whatever may have caused it. Don’t assume that because people are present that they will stick with what you no matter what. Speaking well and holding an audience’s attention is not a simple nor easy task. Work at it, seek feedback and evaluation regularly.
Here’s hoping the only thing you lose is some weight, or maybe I am the only one who needs that one.