5 tips on how to “read” your audience when speaking in public  

IMG_6002 On the 30th of January 2017, I was invited to deliver a Public Speaking workshop introducing my 5 keys to unlock your speaking at the University of Essex, inColchester.

I was faced with a mixture of students from the University, half of them speaking English as a second language and about 5 external participants eager to discover or improve their public speaking.

My work is very interactive and a question came up about how to “listen” to your audience or to “read your audience”.

The word “listen” was first used but really how do you listen realistically to an audience whilst delivering your talk?

The question is more about “reading your  audience” and “feeling” the level of engagement of the audience and being able to adjust and to adapt your delivery in terms of pace and activities to maintain and sustain their attention and their interest throughout so that you can fully engage them for the duration of your talk.  

When you talk to a friend or a colleague, on a one to one basis, communication is more straightforward, nodding,  smiling, asking questions, turning your body towards each other. All this helps to create a rapport and to develop relationship and ultimately develop communication. But what happens when you are standing facing a group, how can you still read the audience and therefore get their full engagement?  

In this blog, I will reveal my 5 best tips to address that issue.

1/  How do you consider your audience, all these eyes and blank faces looking straight at on you? Do you consider your audience as  a “mob” as it was said by one of the  participant in my workshop at the University of Essex, or as a hostile big pack of wolf or a terrifying pride of lions. May I invite you to consider your audience as friends and as having a one to one conversation with each member of the group. Friend or foe? What is the best alternative? I am asking you. This alone should alleviate some of your fears associated with speaking and make you a more authentic and approachable speaker.

2/ Make your audience interact with you, for example by asking  them questions but also allow thinking time and talking time with other attendees. People reflect and develop their learning by sharing it and by learning cooperatively. You may be the expert but an audience will respect you for taking their ideas into consideration. Have a flip chart in hand and use it. Having the ideas of the audience written on paper validate the participants and actually increase their engagement as their ideas are taken into consideration. If possible use their language and repeat their actual words but if not clear, paraphrase their ideas and ask for clarification so that you write what they actually mean. Never consider that an answer may be silly but thank a clumsy participant for their contribution.

IMG_60163/ Consider your speech or presentation as a gift instead of just a talk. You are offering your knowledge and expertise, you are gifting them with the joy to learn, to be informed and to be entertained. Even if the content of the talk/speech is not yours, familiarise yourself with it so that it becomes yours. Obviously do it with ethos and the boundaries of your principles. It is much difficult to deliver a speech with authenticity  if one disagrees with the content of the material one delivers. Decide when and where to draw the line. Take responsibility.

5/ Keep your audience active physically : Ever felt tired sitting for too long and even if you were interested feeling more and more drowsy, why not asking your audience to move?  It can be as simple as standing up and shaking their body or giving a high five to another participants or it may involve moving physically in the room by playing a game or joining an activity. The range of movement will be dependant on the room you use and the size of the group but I strongly believe that we can ask the audience to move to actually re- engage with their learning and refocus them on the topic in hand.

5/ Treat participants equally, think inclusion. As a speaker you are there for the whole group not for the noisy or the most difficult ones, everyone’s idea deserves to be heard, especially if you can see that they are trying to. If you know your audience ( you are a teacher or a lecturer) please, please ban favouritism and adopt a policy of inclusion with pride as part of your principles and your ethos.
These are my best tips but there are so many more. I will be running some of my own  training  very soon and you will have to take part!

Public speaking at the University of Essex

 

One thought on “5 tips on how to “read” your audience when speaking in public  

  1. I attended Helene’s workshop and found it both fun and very informative. As someone who regularly delivers guest talks I found the content useful and Helene was very inspiring. Claire Parry-Witchell

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