Communication Tip: How to Handle Controversial Subjects

Many speakers are afraid to speak on controversial subjects for fear of offending their audience or getting harshly rejected by it. If you have something you feel strongly about, feel free to speak about them. There are techniques that enable you to express your views effectively and without alienating your audience:

  • Tailor the speech fit your audience: If you are giving a speech about abortion, you would use a different approach if you are speaking to Planned Parenthood than you would to Operation Rescue. Make points that fit the audience’s needs. Show sensitivity to the audience’s concerns. Choose an appropriate tone and amount of detail for your listeners.
  • Respect the opposing side: By respecting your opposition, you will gain the audience’s respect and attention. Also, by showing the strengths in their arguments, you can make your points sound stronger and more credible.
  • Get your facts straight: Your opponents will be quick to point out flaws and weaknesses in your argument. Be sure your information is accurate. Anticipate any objections or responses they might present to your points.
  • Expect and accept some negative responses: You won’t please everyone, especially the more strident members of the opposition. As long as you make your point effectively and respectfully, you will earn the respect of your audience, if not converts to your point of view.

There are situations when it is not appropriate to speak on controversial subjects:

  • At the workplace or at Toastmasters clubs and other groups where such topics are not allowed.
  • When the controversial subject is not a part of your overall presentation. If you are giving a speech about sales projections, don’t try to “punch it up” by making snide comments about the President of the United States.
  • When the controversial subject is not appropriate for situation or audience. A funeral, for example, would be a poor place to debate different religions’ views of the hereafter.

The key to addressing controversial subjects successfully is to know your audience–which including knowing when not raise the subjects at all.

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