Have you ever been the in the audience when a speaker, after greeting the crowd and getting a tepid response, says: “Oh, I know you can do better than that. Good morning!” 

I had never thought much about it, but the subject came up recently after a friend shared that it bugs her when speakers do this, so of course, I wanted to think about why that might be.

This tactic feels like something a more-than-usually enthusiastic principal of a middle school might use to get the students’ attention at an assembly. The dynamic reinforces that the speaker is “in charge” of the room, and perhaps has more status than the listeners. The request for a louder and more energetic response can feel more like a command. 

I understand the impulse to use this technique. For one thing, we’ve all seen it done a hundred times. The presenter greets the audience, they get a scattered response, they try again, being clearer about what they want to have happen. The audience knows this routine, so they generally do come through with a more uniform and hearty “good morning” the second time around. 

It’s fine. I don’t share my friend’s aversion to this. But I do wonder: what could the speaker do instead? What are they trying to accomplish, and how could they do it in a different way?

What are you trying to accomplish? When I present, I frequently want people to interact with me throughout my talk so that I can make my material as relevant to them as possible. I set this up very early. I typically ask a very specific question, interact with the people who answer, and keep a conversational tone going. The later into your talk it gets, the harder it is to change the audience’s willingness to participate. They’ve settled into listening mode; they won’t welcome you turning the tables on them by asking them to chat with you. 

How could you connect in a different way? The initial “good morning” can fall flat because the audience isn’t sure what the speaker wants. No one wants to be the one person who says “Good morning” back, only to find they’re the lone voice in the room! To make it clearer, the speaker should wait until the room is settled and they have everyone’s attention, then address them, making eye contact and pausing to indicate that they’re inviting a response. 

A large group of people doesn’t assume you want them to speak to you when you’re presenting—the default mode is that you speak, and they listen. If you’re going to upend that contract, make sure you’re being clear what you want to have happen!

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