Is it okay to mingle with and meet my audience or training group in advance of my session starting? If so, how do I handle any questions I may get asked without revealing too much of my presentation?
Hi Meg, what you describe happens to me ALL the time. I love that you asked. My preference is to circulate and meet my audience a little before my session too. This is what I’ve noticed when I do…
First, I get a feel for the room. This helps me know how to pitch my message, not to mention, understand how well the people look after each other.
Second, I may meet a few people who have that “what are we going to do” look on their faces (more on this in a moment.)
Third – there’s something powerful about having made a connection with a small number of people (hopefully remembering their names) and then looking for them in the audience once my session starts. Now, I’ll add this as a sneaky Fourth – invariably, these same people come up to me at the end and ask to buy my books!! It’s crazy, but there is a strong correlation here.
Oh, and Five – this mixing and mingling with my audience at the beginning often models the message of my session.
So, with that as my background… you can probably guess my response to your question. You can’t say too much, but it is important that you don’t lie and you are able to respond to people’s concerns and questions. Ignoring them, or not circulating is problematic, but so is saying something to the effect of “It’s a secret, I’ll share more with you shortly…”
Rather, I like to say things like:
“… I’m going to present a series of activities that will INVITE you to interact with others…” or
“… You will not be forced to do anything, I’ll honour your choice, but I will work really hard to make what we do so much fun it will be hard to stand away from….” or
“… I’m kinda making it up, so I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do either, but I do expect to present a couple of really fun, non-threatening exercises …” or
“… there’s a lot to cover, and I promise to make it worth your while…” or
“… I’m only here to share what has worked for me…” (that last one is particularly powerful.)
Here’s another angle about my choice to meet my audience in advance – I sometimes circumvent the potential questions by introducing myself and then asking them What do they think is going to happen.
This is a powerful question because it strikes at the heart of their expectations. Often, they have no clue or only a small inkling, and then I am able to alleviate any fears that they may have. Remember, they (the audience) is just as anxious as you because they have no control over what is about to happen. At least you know this much.
So, in short, work to alleviate their fears and help them to adjust their expectations. And if they happen to ask a direct question that strikes at the heart of my message, I’ll often give a very quick answer which is followed with I’ll expand on this and so much more during my presentation.
Honestly, in all of my years, I’ve rarely had anyone approach me or ask a question that was awkward or threatening or was asking too much too soon. I smile, I make it very clear that I will not be threatening them and gently ask them to describe what they are concerned about. I’m guessing most of these people have been gathered together because someone (a boss?) told them too, and they just want to now that it’s going to be worth their while (because they can think of at least 3 other things they’d rather be doing.)