A few weeks back I asked you what you wanted to know about public speaking (the survey is still open if you want to chime in). Due to the fantastic response and the great questions, I'm starting a new feature on Wednesdays called: The Speech Doctor Is In. You ask the question – I give you my honest heart-felt answer.
For this inaugural edition, Ben asked:
“How do you do on-the-spot audience analysis (are they engaged, do they perceive me to be credible, am I communicating clearly) and how do you adjust on-the-spot?”
Great question, Ben! The most awesome aspect of being a speaker is being able to adjust to your audience on-the-spot in the moment. First, realize that a speech is a conversation. If your spouse looked confused, you wouldn't just keep talking on – you'd stop and adjust. Second, you've got to let go of your preparation and speak off-the-cuff.
How do you analyze the audience while speaking?
During your presentation – you need to keep the audience NEAR. NEAR is a great little acronym that I made up. It stands for.
- Notice emotions – What is the emotional vibe of the room? Tired? Engaged? Bored? Confused? Don't wall yourself off from the audience's feelings. Let yourself be open to experience their emotions.
- Examine – Go beyond making eye contact and examine the body language of the audience. Are they leaning forward? Great, they are engaged! Are they falling asleep? Bad, they aren’t getting your message! Of course each audience member is going to have different nonverbal signals, but go with majority rules. If your audience is staring at you like you sprouted another head during your talk – you've got a problem.
- Ask – Keep the audience engaged by asking them questions. Get them involved. If they look confused, ask them if they're with you. Ask what confused them. If they've been sitting for an hour – see if they want a break or, better yet, ASK them to stand-up and stretch. Checking in with our audience is the best way to know if they're getting your message.
- Request feedback -After you finish speaking, ask your audience for comments. What did they take away from your talk? This gets them involved and also lets you know if they got the BIG IDEA of your presentation.
I know this terrifies most of my clients. You spend HOURS planning, preparing and practicing your presentations. Straying from that preparation is hard. You want to look like the expert, but the thing is You are already the expert. You know this topic better than anyone in that room.
It's about building that confidence of knowing that you know your stuff. You can handle their questions, confusions and assumptions. Most importantly, after you're done adjusting to their reactions – you can get right back to your presentation because you know it.
Don't be afraid to abandon your outline and PowerPoint slides to truly connect with your audience and their experience of your presentation.
What happens if they ask you something you don't know?
Be honest and admit that you don't know! It's ok, but then follow-up with how you're going to find out. Grab their business card and email an answer later.
It's completely possible to adapt your presentation on-the-fly when you are fully present with your audience, abandon your outline or slides and just speak off-the-cuff.
Thank you, Ben for asking and hope this helps you rock your next presentation.
Got a presentation question? Fill out the survey and it can be featured on Pick My Brain Wednesday.