5 Tip Top Ways to Regain Your Lost Audience Members
by Claudia Brogan
Each of us knows the feeling: you have carefully prepared your presentation, have dutifully followed Tom Nixon’s tips on designing a pithy, useful set of slides. You have practiced faithfully, researched your audience and your topic. And there you stand, right up at the front of the room, smoothly heading through your remarks and key points. And there, to your observant eye, appears the sight of a distracted or confused audience member. Perhaps this person checked out for a brief minute to check their phone’s messages. Perhaps they were talking to a neighbor, or have just awakened from a nap.
Whatever the case may be, your effectiveness as a speaker will increase greatly if you can re-connect with your lost audience members and bring them along.
Recently, I was coaching a scientific researcher as he worked diligently on his upcoming presentation. As we talked about his speaker responsibilities such as enunciating with care, using good strong vocals, and explaining concepts clearly, we also addressed the importance of his paying close attention to audience members along the way. With chagrin and surprise, he exclaimed “that couldn’t possibly be his responsibility” could it?
As we discussed the practice used by excellent speakers, of heeding your audience reactions along the way, he confessed he had never much focused on the listener’s behaviors and attentiveness. My prediction to him: “If you do, your speech will be incrementally better!” Here are the tips we discussed to regain their attention:
- Re-locate along the way: if room logistics or microphone amplification allow for it. If you notice that the first few rows are playing close attention, but the back rows are drifting off, move so that you stand more closely to them and can elicit their focus.
- Pause on Purpose: Audience members may drift off or grow distracted when there is a long steady stream of words, terminology and concepts to take in. For vocal variety, get their attention by inserting specific pauses during your speech. This allows the listener to “catch up,” and helps regain your listeners’ focus. Your judicious use of pauses will also help emphasize key terms.
- Make direct eye contact: Good speakers are so familiar with their speech content that they can often look up from their notes to meet the eyes of their listeners. By looking directly at your audience members, the speaker establishes credibility and connection.
- Insert a rhetorical question: The mind of the listener shifts and grows alert when there are questions raised along the way, rather than a string of declarative sentences. “What do you think this quote is meant to teach us?” “Why would the character have behaved that way?” Listeners perk up when they hear a question being raised.
- When appropriate, insert a sincere question for variety. Be sure to give clear indications to the audience whether you want them to answer aloud or whether you intend for them to silently consider the question. But when your material allows for it and you are clear about how you will regain the momentum of the speech, try asking for a brief example or two for your key point. Audience members will be challenged to focus, even curious about when you might raise the next question.
When a speaker notices along the way that some of the audience members are lost or confused, using one of these tips effectively is sure to help us all together “get back on track.”
Claudia Brogan is a speaker, trainer and facilitator who helps organizations by coaching presenters, leading collaborative meetings and problem-solving with groups and teams. Reach out to see how she can help you.