"HARNESS" column - May 2005

Ten Tips for Addressing Crowds

"I'm often asked to make announcements at club events but hate addressing crowds. They never seem to listen to me! Do you have any advice?"

Here are ten tips for doing better in front of an audience:

  1. Get their attention
    You need to grab your audience's attention BEFORE you start to speak. You can do this by demonstrating that you have control over the conditions in the room. Stand up on a chair or stage so that you can be seen clearly. Arrange for someone to turn down the music, turn down the lights in the rest of the room and turn up the lights wherever you are standing. Now wait for the room to fall quiet. If you start pleading with the crowd to be quiet you have lost your position of authority. If you must ask for quiet then do so firmly and politely.

  2. Be audible with a microphone
    Hold the microphone one inch away from your mouth. It won't pick up your voice if you hold it halfway down your chest. You still need to speak loudly and clearly (you should be able to hear your own voice coming out of the speakers). If you can hear any feedback (howling coming from the speakers) then you need to move away from the speakers, hold the microphone closer to your mouth or speak louder.

  3. Be audible without a microphone
    Microphones fail. When that happens take a deep breath in from your diaphragm and project your voice to the back of the bar. Crowds don't like to be shouted at so you will also need to cut down what you say to the barest minimum.

  4. Keep control
    If you ask the audience a question don't let them get away with a half-hearted response. Ask a few more times until they respond enthusiastically. Audiences are like pushy bottoms: they WANT to be controlled, but have a tendency to fight back. If you let them get away with poor behaviour they lose all respect for you and the scene is over!

  5. Don't ask the audience to remember anything you say
    If you want people to remember your website address, make sure it's printed on business cards and announce that you'll hand them out later. If you're promoting an event point out a poster that has been prominently displayed with all the details. If someone has leaflets with them, ask them to stand up or come on stage so they can be seen by the crowd. Never expect your audience to remember the details of anything you say.

  6. Keep it brief
    The audience needs variety to keep them entertained and regular breaks to visit the bar or toilet. If you go on for too long the background level of conversation will slowly rise until no one can hear what you are saying. If the background noise starts increasing in volume either change what is happening on stage, finish as quickly as possible, or take a break and come back in 20 minutes.

  7. Don't insult the crowd, DJ or backstage crew
    If the crowd has stopped listening to you it's because they can't hear you, you are not entertaining enough or you have gone on too long. Never insult the crowd for not listening to you - it's your fault, not theirs. Likewise don't insult the DJ, backstage crew or anyone whose job is to help you look good. You need them!

  8. Don't be afraid of large crowds
    Ironically, the larger the crowd the easier they are to deal with. The more people you have in the audience the less likely you are to be heckled and the more likely they are to start acting as one cohesive group, laughing and responding together in the same way. Just make sure you can be heard all the way at the back of the room.

  9. Have some jokes prepared to fill gaps
    People are more likely to listen to you if you can make them laugh at regular intervals. Try to have a couple of funny comments on standby each time you speak. Don't reuse material you've already used on the same crowd - old jokes are worse than no jokes at all.

  10. Practise makes perfect
    The people you see who are able to address crowds well have spoken in public hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. Don't be disheartened if you don't get it right first time - all skills take time to develop. Look out for people who can give you honest and constructive feedback and follow their advice.

Good luck with the event!

Best wishes,

John Pendal
International Mr Leather 2003

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