Who's in the audience and why should I care?" a while back, about doing research on your audience beforehand, so you can give the best value and tailor your talk to that group.
But there's a lot about your audience that you could never find out from an organizer. And yet, it still matters.
We put a lot of energy into worrying about why this guy's not smiling or why that woman is looking down at her hands. What am I doing wrong? Why isn't everyone engaged?
And sometimes it's you. Sometimes (a lot of the time), you are not engaging enough. You aren't doing enough to keep the audience's attention.
But sometimes (a lot of the time), it's not you.
Here are some of the people in your audience:
A woman in an abusive relationship
Someone who is grieving
Someone who is struggling financially
Someone who is sick
Someone who has a sick family member
Someone who got fired
Someone who has a mental health disorder
Also, there is:
Someone who just had a baby
Someone who just got married
Someone who just got a promotion
Someone who just returned from vacation
Someone who's just achieved their goal weight
Someone who's wearing their favorite outfit
Someone who made a big sale
Someone who's having a good hair day
Toss them all together with these people:
Someone who is late to an appointment
Someone who's trying out a new babysitter
Someone who's nervous about a first date
Someone who forgot to pick up milk
Someone who is about to go on vacation
Someone who's wondering how he's going to afford all the Christmas presents
Someone who skipped lunch and is starving
Do you see what I'm getting at? People are in their own worlds. Things are going on in your audience's lives that are affecting them at every moment. They might be obsessed or only mildly distracted, but there are a million things going on with each person that you can't possibly know. In fact, there are a million things going on with you, too, because you're human, and you have a life.
What does this mean for your presentation?
It means that you do the best you can with the information you have.
It means that you always assume people will have mental distractions and you make your best efforts to keep them present and with you.
It means that, if some people never come around, it's not necessarily personal, and you need to keep going, keep working it, keep doing your best to reach as many audience members as you can with all your skills, knowledge, energy, passion and dedication.
You can't possibly know everything that's going on with the people in your audience. But for that ten minutes or twenty minutes or hour that you spend with them, you can put aside your own distractions and make them your entire focus. Treat them as though they are your dearest friends, as though you wouldn't rather be anywhere else.
Because a lot of them will be somewhere else, mentally, and your challenge is to bring them into this world that you've created and that you will all share for this brief time.
As a speaker, there's nothing better than knowing that you've built something unique and special in a room with a group of people who are disparate and diverse, may not know each other and may not ever be together again. It's a gratifying feeling of accomplishment and collaboration.
Are you experiencing this with your audiences? What do you need to change for this to happen?