Asking Really Hard or Really Stupid Questions
There's two ways to ask questions of the audience that will make them hate you. One is to ask really hard questions, where they stress out about getting it wrong and looking stupid in front of everyone. If you've ever attended high school or college, you've probably run into that.
The other way might be even worse, when they ask the most obvious question possible. If they ask the audience as a whole, they just want a loud "YES!" or "NO!" same as any of the other forced enthusiasm tactics. But if they single you out, it's really the most no-win situation ever.
"After I've had an entire 12-pack of cheap beer, should I get in my car and start driving? What do you think? Todd?" If you answer wrong, you'll look retarded. If you answer right, you will get a much-too-excited string of praise for answering a question a trained monkey could answer.
Sometimes a speaker likes to show he "gets" his audience by mentioning some local in-joke or popular person in the community. This tactic seems to be used mostly by people who speak at high schools, possibly because high school students often can't tell when they're being manipulated.
However, this Family Guy episode has been around a while now, about some obnoxious teen speakers who put on a skit for the kids and make a one-off joke about how a crazy driver "must be from Jefferson High," causing the high schoolers to laugh on cue and explain, "They're our rivals!" So the kids might be wise to this trick now.
Do high school kids watch Family Guy? I'm so out of touch.
My school didn't have a rival high school because we were absolutely apathetic about sports, so one speaker instead kept making jokes about one popular kid (jokes based on how popular the guy must be) and using him as an example. I assume he just asked around ahead of time who the "most popular boy in school" was. This could have worked better considering I went to a 2,000-person school where nobody knew anyone outside of their clique of about 50 people. My only reaction was, "Yeah, that guy sure is a student who attends this school. I think."
And you don't get away from it when you move into the corporate world. I've had speakers diss rival companies -- "Of course these are some of the problems that came up when I was over at Company Y. I'm sure nobody here at Company X runs into that problem!" -- or pick out a really vocal employee on the assumption that he must be a popular guy that everybody knows -- "I know none of you guys would do that, but I don't know about Lester over here!"
Because speakers often have very little to work with in terms of their subject matter, they often turn to any weird and zany tricks they can think of to keep the audience's attention -- ventriloquism, card tricks, skits, musical performances, knife throwing, whatever.
The problem is, how often is someone good at both public speaking AND one of these esoteric hobbies? From what I've seen, not very often. And sadly, they're usually lacking on the public speaking side, if not both sides. That means they don't manage to integrate their gimmick seamlessly into their presentation as a way of illustrating their points. They're just basically interrupting their speech every now and then for what is essentially a commercial break where they entertain you.
Or "entertain" you.
That means that the boring speech ends up taking even longer because of all the interruptions. You probably would have appreciated it more if they'd left the dummy or the cards at home and just finished up faster. And man, if their gimmick is something truly awful like mime or interpretive dance, they're just doubling up on the misery.
Pretty much your only hope is that the stunt goes terribly wrong somehow.
For more from Christina, check out 6 Famous 'Frivolous Lawsuit' Stories That Are Total B.S. and 5 Reasons Why Anticonformity Is Worse Than Conformity.