Every speaker has to deal with a difficult audience at one time or another. Some speakers, however, because of a topic that is inherently uncomfortable or considered controversial, will face these audiences more frequently.

It may be difficult to get a hostile audience on your side, but if they leave angry, uninspired, unmotivated and unlikely to act on your call to action, who's to blame? Yep, you. It's your job to make sure the audience "gets it."

Here are some tips for getting the audience to resonate with your message, even when they seem unlikely to respond to you.

Pointer 1: Know your objective

In order to develop your objective, it helps to know three things: Who’s your audience? What are their needs? What do you want them to do as a result of your talk?

For the purposes of this article, let's use the example of a mandatory corporate training on sexual harassment.

Who's your audience?

* Employees who are not there by choice.
* Employees who have been harassed.
* Employees who have harassed someone.
* Employees who don't have any experience with harassment and think it has nothing to do with them.

Do as much research as possible with the hosting organization beforehand, but even making an educated guess, you can imagine the different experiences of your audience.

What are their needs?

* Some employees need reassurance that it's okay to report harassment.
* Some employees need encouragement to speak up to coworkers who make inappropriate jokes.
* Some employees need to know that it's not their fault if they're harassed.

What do you want them to do as a result of your talk?

* Do you want them to stop using inappropriate humor?
* Do you want them to spread the word to their coworkers?
* Do you want them to be more aware of what's going on around them?

Keep these issues in mind as you develop your objective. Be very clear about what your message is and who it's for.

Pointer 2: Meet them where they are

Some people in the room are uncomfortable. Some are defensive. Some are offensive. Some are just plain ignorant. How do you get past your own frustration about people not hearing your message?

One way to deal with the discomfort in the room is to bring it up. Ask, "Who's uncomfortable with this topic?" Some people won't raise their hands, because they don't want to be perceived as "emotional" or having any experience with your topic. That's to be expected.

However, some people will raise their hands, and by confirming that 1) the topic is uncomfortable and 2) it's okay to acknowledge the discomfort, you create a safer space for everyone in the room. Creating a safer space builds trust and makes audience members more willing to participate.

When dealing with someone who's defensive or offensive, first understand that they might not realize their comments or actions are disruptive. Don't assume they're out to get you. They may not know a healthy, respectful way to express what they're trying to say.

One way to deal with resistance is to say, "I understand if you're uncomfortable with this topic; it's not something we talk about every day." Or, "You seem upset by what I just said. Can you share your concerns?" Sometimes people who are being disruptive just want to be heard. By acknowledging their concerns without making judgement, you might just create an ally.

If someone is being outright rude, try ignoring their comments so they don't get any attention for their bad behavior. Dealing with hecklers is a whole other article!

Humor often can break the ice and lighten up the atmosphere when there's discomfort in the room, but be sure that your humor is suitable and doesn't single out anyone.

How about the people who are just ignorant? These can be the most difficult audience members to deal with, because they're not attacking you - they just don't "get it."

Sometimes it's hard for us, the "experts," to remember what it was like not to have the knowledge, experience and information that we have. We can easily get frustrated when we are unable to convey our message, and then we blame the audience for being "dense" or "resistant."

But as mentioned above, it's your job to make sure your audience receives your message. It's your job to get past their fears, concerns, or hostility. Understand where they're coming from and meet them where they are. A person only knows what he knows at that particular moment in time.

By the end of your presentation, you will have given the audience tools to expand their knowledge. But they come to you with their own collection of experiences and knowledge that may not coincide with yours. Don't blame them for not knowing what you know.

Pointer 3: Engage the audience

By now, you've given the audience a reason to trust you. You've expressed respect for and openness to what they might be feeling and what they have to say. Now get them involved.

Create a strong opening. Tell a story that draws them in and makes them want more. Give a quiz that tests their knowledge in a lighthearted way. Ask a few questions to gauge their knowledge or interest and ask for a show of hands. Or share a statistic that will startle them and get their attention.

Use stories, examples and analogies that move them emotionally through anger, empathy or humor, to connect with them and help them understand your topic. Examples also allow the audience to relate your topic to their own lives. Making a human connection is the best way to get your message across.

Audience members can be uncomfortable, defensive, offensive, or ignorant. They can also be receptive, responsive and grateful for your expertise. Meet them where they are, respectfully and without judgement, and you'll find your audiences will "get it" every time.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa Braithwaite works with individuals to uncover their challenges and build their strengths in presenting themselves confidently as speakers. Find your voice with public speaking coaching! Sign up for my newsletter and find out about my free consultation by visiting http://www.coachlisab.com.