One of the worst feelings when speaking in front of an audience is not knowing whether they are interested, or even worse, knowing that they are uninterested. Many public speakers get so wrapped up in the message they are delivering that they forget to communicate with their audience. It is helpful to get clues from their behaviour, usually non-verbal communication, about how they feel about your presentation. This could be anything from an approving nod to constant yawns. This is so important because a change of style to get the audience on your side might be necessary if they are not engaged or just bored!
Here are some signs to look out for if you are on the right track:
- Approving head nods
- A slight lean forward
- Writing notes
- Direct eye contact
- Laughter when jokes are told
- Appropriate questions
After noticing these signs, the speaker can be comfortable knowing that their audience is engaged, but only as long as they remain engaged. It is possible to have the undivided attention of the listeners, but lose it as you continue. In situations like this, an understanding of the body language is essential as it gives the speaker a chance to redeem themselves by understanding the reason for the shift in interest. The process of involving the audience starts again, while looking out for the signs mentioned above. The body language should be easy to read because most audience members will not be aware of the fact that they are being observed.
The signs to look out for if you are completely losing your audience include:
- Complete silence
- Lack of eye contact
- Constant time checks or phone checks
- Leaning away
- Irrelevant questions
- Side conversations
- Closed eyes
These are just a few of the main signs to look out for, hence why as a speaker there is power in preparation. Having a fully prepared and rehearsed presentation will make adapting according to the audience’s interest a lot easier. This can sound more intimidating than it really is because it is in front of an audience. But if you subtract the audience and think about it in terms of your daily life, you have had a lot more practice than you realise. For example, if you are feeling upbeat, having a good day, and come across an upset co-worker, you adjust your behaviour accordingly. It is the same as speaking in front of an audience; modify your style based on the non-verbal information that they inadvertently communicate.