August 7, 2007

Is your audience paying attention?



Have you ever been giving a presentation, and observed someone fiddling with their phone? Have you ever felt uncomfortable speaking to a group while one or more people in the audience looked out the window in apparent boredom, or sat, arms crossed and stone-faced, almost daring you to entertain them?

When this happens, do you feel dejected and discouraged, and try to figure out how to get the attention of those people, instead of focusing on all the people who are paying attention to you?

Here are some possibilities to consider that may help you next time you're facing the doodler/fiddler/stone-faced audience member.

Doodlers are actually paying attention

Some people learn better when they're not looking at you, because different individuals have different learning styles.

Someone who's an auditory learner might be distracted by your props and visuals, and might hear better when looking down or out the window. Someone who's a kinesthetic learner might learn better while doodling or checking e-mails; they appear distracted but are actually focusing better by having something to do with their hands.

Body language is not an accurate gauge


As much as we've been taught to read body language or nonverbal communication in others, sometimes it just doesn't work the way we expect it to.

We've been told that "arms crossed" means someone is closed off or defensive, but I find that when I'm sitting in a chair for a length of time to listen to a speaker, it's quite comfortable to cross my arms.

We've heard that people who are engaged will be smiling, nodding or will have their mouths slightly open to indicate listening. Well, I may be listening intently but not smiling - and when I don't smile, the corners of my mouth and eyes turn down, making me look stern.

What I'm saying here is that someone who appears stern or closed off may actually be enjoying your presentation. In fact, I've had many of these stone-faced people in my audiences over the years, who later came to me and told me how much they learned from my talks.

Especially after speaking to middle school and high school students for many years, I learned that body language is not always an accurate indicator of what an audience member is thinking or feeling.

They really aren't paying attention


Sometimes this may be the case, especially in presentations where employees are mandated to attend by their employer. If you are really uncomfortable trying to connect with people who don't seem engaged, don't try.

Put your energy into the people in the room who are giving you energy. Don't ignore the people who seem less engaged, but as long as you're looking at people near them, they will feel included - even if they don't want to be included.

Open your mind to the different ways your audience learns and listens, and you will find that you hardly mind the phone fiddlers at all.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

Jacki Hollywood Brown said...

I used to get nasty looks from the old ladies in church because I was "playing video games" instead of listening to the sermon. When they found out I was taking notes on my Palm (notepad) they wouldn't believe me until I recited the sermon two weeks previously!
I'm the kind of person that has to write it down to remember it. I always take that into consideration when I give a presentation and when I come across an important point I will actually say, "I'll give you a minute to write that down!"
Even if my audience doesn't actually write it down, they will remember what I said because I told them to remember it (just like their teachers in school did).

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Exactly, Jacki!

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