Want To Know How To Handle A Hostile Audience? Watch This Motivational Speaker Do It
Not every audience is desperate to hear what you have to say. Here’s how to handle it.
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
It's all very well being Tony Robbins.
They crowd in to see him.
They hang on his every word like children from an apple tree.
They want to be like him. They want to be him. They dream of having dramatically shiny teeth like his. They've probably already practiced his mannerisms in a mirror.
Not every motivational speaker gets that sort of crowd.
Some audiences have to be persuaded to listen. Some audiences don't care who you are, what you think or what you have to say.
They'd rather chat, play with their phones or chat on their phones.
These people are sometimes called high school kids.
When motivational speaker Eric Thomas walked on stage at a St. Louis high school, some of the kids just didn't want to know.
This despite the fact that Thomas has been lauded by the likes of LeBron James.
Thomas decides the best method isn't charm.
He doesn't tell jokes. He doesn't offer patience. He doesn't try to "engage" the audience with a PowerPoint or a bon mot.
Instead, he goes for confrontation.
He tells them they're rude. He suggests they're behaving in an ignorant manner. He gets in their faces till all they can see and hear is Eric Thomas.
He tells them he's not being paid to be there.
This is a perfectly American argument that even teens understand. Hey, look. This is free.
"I'm not here to get nothing. I'm here to give something," he explains.
"You ain't got but a few people who care about you in the world," he continues.
He reminds them what it is to be young and black in some parts of America.
"You in the wrong place, you're going to get shot and killed and ain't nobody going to go to jail for it," he says.
And suddenly he's found their core, their hearts. He persuades them he's genuinely acting in their interest.
Rappers aren't coming to help you, he says. They'll take your money, but they won't invest back into you.
Watch, then, how he describes in simple, emotive language the essence of the black experience, the very torments that go through these kids' minds.
Thomas explains how no one ever thought he'd get a Ph.D, but he got it anyway. Just as no one might think these kids will amount to anything, but they have to face up to life as it really is and fight it.
Vashon High School in St. Louis is one of the lowest-performing schools in the district. Thomas says he's sick and tired of being asked why so-called urban schools don't perform well. He knows these black kids aren't stupid.
At the heart of his speech, though, is the initial confrontation.
It could have gone very badly. The kids could have carried on chatting. They could have even caused trouble.
It's not everyone's way to offer confrontation at the first sign of rudeness or disinterest. American business has, if anything, become increasingly passive-aggressive.
Yes, of course Silicon Valley hasn't helped.
Sometimes, though, confronting your audience at its core can work.
For that, you have to have thought about that audience, who they really are and why they are the way they are.
Eric Thomas certainly did.
It may not have been happy or pretty. But getting up and doing something often isn't either.