Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why is your conference audience frowning? Perhaps they just lost at travel roulette

Suppose that you were going to speak at the evening opening session of a conference. You planned ahead, got there the day before, and rehearsed your speech repeatedly. But, when you went to give it you noticed a whole bunch of frowning faces in the audience. Were they upset because your content and delivery were terrible? Perhaps not.

Back in 1975 I attended an international technical conference that was held at a lovely resort location - Jackson Lake Lodge, in Grand Teton National Park. To get there you probably had to fly to Jackson, Wyoming via Frontier Airlines, whose nearest hub airports were in Denver and Salt Lake City. Back then they flew Convair 580 turboprop airliners that only held fifty people.

The conference had been organized by a pair of university professors. They’d warned Frontier not to overbook flights to Jackson by their usual percentages on the day and evening when the conference opened. Of course Frontier ignored them, and everybody with reservations showed up at the counters in their two hubs. Some people had to take later flights. Others missed the opening session.

At the conference one disgruntled traveler told me he’d had to take a later flight. John worked in market development for a huge international metals company. The person behind the counter also told him that his baggage might not fly with him, and might not even arrive until the next morning. When he asked if the airline could be more specific, the counter person just snidely replied:

“That’s what we call Frontier roulette!”

John spent most of his work week traveling around the U.S. visiting customers. I wonder how many business travelers he told that customer disservice punch line, and how many million dollars of lost business it eventually cost Frontier, who went bankrupt in 1986.  
The roulette cartoon came from an old Puck magazine. This post was inspired by Lisa Braithwaite’s Speak Schmeak blog post yesterday on why I’m my own worst audience member.


Lisa Braithwaite said...

Great example of how we never really know what's going on with our audience members, and not to take a frowning face personally!

michael platania said...

And even if they frown, they may love your speech. I remember one time I gave a speech and was surprised at the low level of audience reaction. I had given the speech before and gotten lots of laughs, nodding facings, smiles of approval, but this time - nothing. I thought I must be off and doing a horrible job, but after as many people as normal (if not more) came up to tell me how much they enjoyed it. You never know what is going on in the minds of the audience while on stage.