[This post is part of our series on Public Speaking in the Church.]
One of the most essential skills for speakers is reading the audience while speaking. For beginning speakers, this is all but impossible since they’ll need to focus on delivering their message well—and that’s okay. But for more practiced speakers, this is a great skill to develop and hone.
Reading the audience while speaking means checking in with the public to see how your talk is landing—or not. It means continuing to speak, and speak well, possibly even operating multimedia as well, while at the same time gauging people’s reaction to what you’re saying.
This is multitasking at its finest, which is why beginning speakers should be careful to try it. It’s easy to get thrown off course in the speaking part when you notice something happening in the audience, for instance. The good news is that reading the audience is a skill you can learn, and further improve on.
Is Your Audience Listening?
On the most basic level, reading your audience means looking at the group as a whole and determine if they’re listening to you. While speaking, simply let your gaze wander around the room. Don’t stare at one person too long, or you may find yourself in a staring context inadvertently! Here’s what you want to look for:
- Signs that they’re bored, or getting bored include fidgeting, looking at phones, whispering to each other, slumping, looking down at the floor or gazing up, or a general lack of response.
- Positive signs that your audience is engaged are for instance eye contact with you as speaker, prompt response to jokes or solid lines, active body posture, people taking notes, relative stillness in body postures as opposed to fidgeting, nodding, and smiling.
Is Your Audience Connecting?
A step beyond mere listening is connecting with your message. This is more subtle in expression, and thus harder to spot. Here are some things to pay attention to:
- Are people expressing confusion? Raised eyebrows, frowns, puzzled expressions, etc. may mean your audience has lost your line of reasoning or doesn’t understand where you’re going. This may require you to spend a few extra minutes explaining your point.
- What you’d love to see is an emotional connection: people nodding, smiling, maybe even verbally expression their agreement to what you’re saying. Tearing up is a step further, but a definite sign your message is hitting home.
- The opposite can happen as well, that people show disagreement or even anger. That could mean you’re not explaining something properly, but it can also mean they simply don’t agree. At least they are listening and are connecting with what you’re saying—just not in the affirmative way you’d want them to.
Using Your Audience’s Feedback
Seeing how your words are affecting your audience is one thing, but doing something about it is an entirely different matter. In the beginning, you can use the audience’s feedback in improving your talks or your delivery. Try to make a mental note which parts seemed to bore them, or where you lost them. You’ll know what to work on next time.
As you get more experience, you’ll be able to use your skill of reading your audience while speaking to immediately adapt either your message or your delivery on the spot. That way, you’ll be able to get their attention back if you lost it, or reconnect with them if they seem disengaged even when listening. We’ll explain this in the next post in more detail.
How hard is it for you to read the audience while you’re talking?
[Photo via Freely]