Reading your audience is a potent tool that can take your public speaking to the next level.
Many people focus only on their content and delivery without paying attention to how they are receiving your message.
Doing so is a big mistake.
An audience is not typically aware that they are being observed. This is why the most successful speakers fine-tune their content depending on their listener’s reactions.
Audience analysis is one of the most powerful tools a speaker can have in their arsenal.
This skill ensures that no matter what your content is, you will be able to fit it for your diverse audience.
Are you ready to read your audience?
Table of Contents
- Non-verbal cues
- Reading Your Audience: What to Pay Attention to?
- Reading Your Audience: Body Language
- Signs your audience agrees with your message.
- Signs your audience is open and interested.
- Signs your audience is bored.
- Signs your audience is impatient and disagreeable.
- Wrapping Up,
There is a lot that can be expressed by words. However, our expressions and body language are a separate lingo in itself.
Did you know that over 70% of human communication is non-verbal?
This might seem daunting, but it is, in fact, great news! You don’t need to brush up on some crazy vocabulary to win over your audience. You simply need to pay attention to.
These non-verbal cues are subtle, but once you know what you’re looking for, it will come naturally to you. Notice the eyes, are they spaced out, darting, or focused?
Notice the feet. Are they tapping and restless or maybe crossed and closed-off? These little details can tell you a lot about how you need to adjust your delivery.
Reading Your Audience: What to Pay Attention to?
There can be so much that your audience is telling you non-verbally. But what exactly should you be watching out for? Read along and find out:
Depending on your audience demographic, it is not always a straight-forward reading. For instance, in some cultures, eye contact might be as commonly accepted.
Similarly, depending on gender and age-range, your approach might be considered too aggressive or too timid.
It is natural for a younger crowd to be restless and does not necessarily mean they aren’t listening. The same for an older crowd might signal a need to switch delivery.
It is not just the demographic itself but also the venue. Smaller venues with a wider stage will allow you to have more one-to-one direct eye contact.
Your audience reaction might change based on this as well as you notice a more relaxed crowd.
Larger venues tend to make the audience feel more disconnected and formal.
You might want to keep it professional, and your audience might respond accordingly. So you will have to read your audience depending on this as well.
The setting also has an impact on your message. For a more somber note, bright or colored lightings simply won’t have the message.
If possible, you can try requesting appropriate lighting to fit your speech, although this isn’t always an option.
Time of Day
Another factor is the time of day. Early morning is typically a good time for a motivating or energetic beginning.
But the time slot after lunch might have people feeling sluggish. Depending on the itinerary, you might want to readjust your delivery and tone so you can match your audience’s energy.
Similarly, read the room while deciding a casual tone or a more formal one. It is always easier to work with the current mood of the room.
This means you have to pay attention to not just the people in terms of demographics but also their postures.
Does your audience seem more relaxed or hyper? Are they already distracted and on their phones, or do you have all their attention?
Notice whether they are mingling amongst themselves or merely sitting aloof. These details will help you get the most out of your audience interactions.
If there is already some chatter going, you might want to consider pumping up the crowd more and encouraging participation.
If they are more towards the quiet side, use this to zero in on your message before they start getting distracted.
Every audience is different. A punchline that worked for one audience might not do anything for another.
So instead of blindly following your script, take note of what your listeners respond to. Are they smiling in the agreement or nodding along?
Remember the positive responses and reference it. Cheers and applauses are a clear indication that your audience is having a good time.
Whenever you notice a drop in the energy, use these positive notes to keep them upbeat.
The thing to remember is that your audience will be more responsive if you can cater and direct them towards your message.
They are willing participants, but you must know how to win their favor. This is the best way of increasing their receptiveness to your speech.
Reading Your Audience: Body Language
Most of our communication is actually non-verbal. This is why we put so much emphasis on non-verbal cues.
Becoming proficient at picking up these cues can be the difference between a successful and a non-successful speech.
The first thing you see is their faces. Do they seem positive and receptive?
Were there any delays? Do you notice any tapping and impatience?
Are they nodding along to your speech, or are they more distracted?
What about eye-contact? Are they returning your gaze or averting your eyes and merely looking at their phones?
These cues can be louder than any cheers or applause as they are being handed out subconsciously.
Any successful speaker is excellent at not only reading these cues but also manipulating them to create agreement among their crowd.
Another thing to remember is that you cannot base your reading on just one audience member.
You never know if that one person represents the broader audience. Try to remember this if you notice some negative readings.
You might see a couple of people being distracted, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to immediately change up your tone.
However, if you notice a more massive crowd sitting with their bodies closed off, i.e., folded arms and closed legs, it is time for a change in energy.
It is common to have a few people smiling and paying attention, but don’t ignore the more massive crowd.
You want to make sure they are leaning forward and interested instead of being on their smartphones.
Signs your audience agrees with your message.
Smiling is always an indication of encouragement and acceptance. If you look into the crowd and see radiant faces nodding along to your speech, that is a great sign.
Wide smiles on cue, and willing eye contact should let you know you’re heading in the right direction.
Similarly, laughter is even better. If you can hear audible responses to your punchlines, you are rocking that stage. You can also refer back to these jokes to build a connection with the audience.
However, the crowd does not have to be full splits for you to know they are having a good time.
Slow nods are another standard signal of agreement. This is even better as it encourages you that the crowd is moving towards acceptance.
Signs your audience is open and interested.
The body language you’re looking out for here is posture. When people are interested in what you have to say, they will naturally lean in towards you.
Otherwise, they are more likely to seem withdrawn and cross off their arms.
Another positive is a furrowed brow with nodding. This indicated intrigue and interest. It means that you have already managed to pique their interest, and all you have to do now is hold it with your amazing content.
Signs your audience is bored.
If you look into the crowd and see a sea of blank faces, there is a chance your audience is getting bored.
You need to catch this early as boredom will cause your audience to zone out and miss out on your message. The glazed and lost look is easy to catch if you attempt any active eye contact.
The first thing to look at is their posture. You might notice they go from sitting upright or leaning forward to slumping back into their chair.
They might be holding up their head on their hands. Some yawns might be visible as well, and you can see fidgeting.
Audience members might start adjusting their glasses, toying with their jewelry, or using their phones.
This is a clear indication that your speech is getting monotone, and it is time to introduce some transitions or change.
You can choose to introduce some interactions or movements to regain their interest.
Signs your audience is impatient and disagreeable.
Disagreeable does not necessarily mean that you are doing a bad job. Sometimes your transitions might just be taking a while.
In that case, you might notice some aggressive tapping. Whether their fingers on the table or their swaying, tapping feet are indicative of impatience.
Similarly, suppose you notice rapid eye and head movements. In that case, they are cues telling you to hurry along and move to a different point.
If your audience does not resonate with the points, you are making. You are likely to see some upset faces.
If not, you might notice their arms and legs crossed. This is indicative that they are closed off to your opinions.
If you are looking to change their stance still, you will need to consider changing your approach.
It is easy to notice whether your audience assumes a comfortable and open posture versus if they turn their body away from you.
If you notice a majority of the audience responding this way, it is best to wrap up your current point and change your tone.
An unhappy face is typically easy to spot. However, as part of an audience, this may not always be apparent in their faces itself.
This is why reading body language becomes so essential. Negative body language where the audience turns away or closes themselves away from you is a significant indication that there needs to be some change in your delivery or content.
Similarly, picking up positive body language cues can help you hold their attention throughout your speech. Like most things, this comes from practice.
Trial and error is the best method to learn how to read common non-verbal cues. Happy reading to you!