We talk a lot about what we need to do when it comes to our speech and our story, but what about what the audience is doing? As speakers, paying attention to the audience is critical yet often overlooked by novice speakers. I have seen many speakers that are so focused on themselves during their speech, that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them.
To be a billion-dollar speaker we not only need to know what’s going on with us, our speech, and our message but also what’s going on with our audience and how that message is landing. Because if it’s not landing, then it’s no good. We’re just hot air, blowing smoke. We’re not going to be effective, we’re not going to make any money, and we’re not gonna impact the audience. We always want to have an impact on the people in our audience.
Let’s make sure that we know what those signals are, to help us successfully identify them and what you can do if you notice this happening.
Audience Signals to Pay Attention To As a Speaker
The audience members could be yawning or fanning themselves. These can indicate that the space is too hot. Even if you are a guest speaker (and it may not be your space), it’s up to you to identify those nonverbal signs and then react.
When you notice the audience dealing with a hot space, you can say briefly from the stage, “Excuse me, to whoever is in charge… Could you turn up the air conditioner? I’m losing my audience.”
This way you let your audience know that you know they’re fading or falling asleep. Or you could make a joke out of it. Make it jovial and funny in some way. I often will say, “They’re all having their own personal summer,” so something fun and light, but get the job done.
I spoke in San Diego many years ago, and there was one woman in the audience who was doing one of those nodding-off movements and yawning. I was really close to saying something, but I knew better. I refrained and at the end of the talk, she came up to me and she told me that her husband passed. She took over the business, it was a cleaning business, and she was up at night cleaning. Not just her, it was her and her team. She had a big company and she cleaned for corporate companies. She bought my four-day speaker training, a $4,000 class that day. [I wasn’t even promoting it that day]. Then she went on to do one speech. She got three clients from just one speech that were worth $36,000 to her. Did that $4,000 pay off? Yeah.
She didn’t know how to get clients. She told me her husband did all the marketing. She just knew how to clean and train her team to clean. Had I said something during my speech, I would’ve blown not only my sale but also her sales, I would’ve blown her future. Do you see why it’s so important to be able to read your audience? It goes beyond us, it’s a ripple effect.
Most of the time, people yawn because they might have been up late. If it’s a lot of people yawning, then it’s usually too warm. Very seldom do people yawn because they’re bored. Think about it. When was the last time you yawned? Likely you were tired.
Audiences Get Bored Fast
OK, They’re bored. They’re not interested, or they can’t hear you, but also I mean they are not hearing you. So they shut down. It could be that you’ve gone on for too long. Speaking time is getting shorter and shorter these days. Not because there’s no time, but because the audience’s attention span has been reduced over the years due to commercials, social media, and everything that’s going on out there. We used to do YouTube videos for 30 minutes or more. Now we have reels that are a minute long.
Everything’s a minute. A minute or less. We go to Instagram, TikTok, where videos are short. Because of this we’re conditioned now to have shorter attention spans, then we shut out. Sometimes I go to TikTok late at night if I can’t sleep and as I scroll each video has like one second to get my attention. If they don’t capture my attention, I’m on to the next one. It’s so easy to do videos nowadays… So we have to keep this in mind especially when we’re doing videos. On Zoom it’s too easy for audience members to look at email, look over at their calendar, do something in another window, and read something… And the speaker never even really notices.
When we speak live, the audience is usually a little bit more tolerant. They know you’re looking at them. So they’re a little more patient, a little more tolerant, and potentially a bit more present. When people are bored, they turn to their telephone, they talk to the person next to them, they’re doodling on their paper. That’s what happens when they’re bored and these are some examples of red flags for you.
How To Break the Boredom in the Room
Boredom can look like a frown or audience members looking at their nails. Don’t simply ignore these signs. Tap into your instincts about what you’re seeing. Your instincts will tell you if you need to break the boredom or change the energy in the room.
Listen to your audience’s messages and signals, and let your intuition guide your response. Don’t ignore the audience’s signals. The only time you ignore them is if it’s occurring with one isolated person. You don’t need to go off track for one person’s signal.
So how do we deal with boredom? Anytime you feel like your audience is bored, and you’ve already started your speech, you’ve got to change the energy. The reason why they’re bored, most of the time is not the information, but the way it’s being delivered. You can grab their attention simply by changing your voice. Get excited, Scream, Wake ’em up.
When To Change the Energy in the Room
One time I had a speaker on stage and she talked about something that was very emotional, and it got somebody charged up emotionally in the front row to where they were crying. I had to change the energy. I couldn’t have my whole audience wait and wonder about what was going on. Taking a break would have ruined the space because the whole feeling would go out of the room and stay with those people. So you have to either use humor or change the energy physically.
So I had everybody stand up and said, “Let’s get into our hero pose. Woohoo.” I asked the audience what superhero they were and offered ideas of Superman, Wonder Woman, and the Hulk. Then I could call a few of them up and have everyone else copy their poses. By the time you’re done. Everybody forgot about that deep crying feeling that they experienced, and the two people that were relating to it, they’ve gone off and did their thing together,
You can look up the hero pose and use it like I do to change the state by getting people up. That’s a fun little thing you could do. Every time you speak, make sure you have different ways prepared to change the energy in the room in the event something goes on to take the energy down. You’ll need to bring it back up. It’s up to you to keep your audience from diving over the cliff.
Have a song and music ready (with your AV team or DJ at a live event) You can have people stand up and do their ugly duckling dance and have them shake their booty while playing some music. Beyonce has upbeat music. Imagine Dragons, Thunder and Lightening, Dua Lipa, Pink or the songs that go like Everybody Dance Now, Let’s Get Loud.
Use props or train your audience on a signal. Have them available and prompt your audience to
One simple way to change the energy is to change the tone of your voice.
Other Nonverbal Signals Your Audience Gives
If they start standing up to stretch or leave the room it’s possible they don’t like it or have lost interest. Maybe you’re telling them the truth, especially about health and they don’t like what they’re hearing and struggle with facing the truth, so they’re not gonna agree with you.
Smiling and nodding are nonverbal signals. They are a good sign and that means they’re enjoying your speech. They’re captivated. That’s what you want. The key is to pay attention because some of the signals are subtle and some of them don’t mean anything. Furthermore, some signals are direct communication to you on purpose.
You may see audience members frowning, yawning, or glancing over at each other. Some may have their arms folded. They could be looking off kind of daydreaming and like they are in another world. How do you think you get them back?
Remember anything you do to your audience, you’re doing to everybody. Everybody feels it. A good way to grab their attention is to blame yourself. Just use yourself as the scapegoat if you can at all times, it really works.
Prevent Boredom By Keeping the Energy High
We’ve mentioned a couple of techniques to break the boredom. You can plan to interject the hero pose or any of the following ideas into your speech to keep the energy high and prevent boredom from setting in.
Create a signature move that you train your audience on. It should make your audience feel good. I’ll teach this during my speech and it goes like this: Clap 3 times and say 1, 2, 3 with each clap pause clap 3 times and say 1, 2, 3, and then shout, “You rock!” Don’t copy that exactly, but create your own version. Any kind of declarations, affirmations, or repetition in coordination with hand or arm gestures.
You can build laughter yoga into your speech. If you’re familiar with laughter yoga you can do something like tell the audience to rub their hands together to activate your acupressure points and say “Very good, very good, yay.”
At the beginning of your session, play some upbeat music or if they’ve been sitting too long, you can interject some music and/or have them get up and stretch their bodies
You can have paper paddles with messages on them that you can invite people at various points in your speech to wave them. Or the hand wavers.
Have people get up and divide them into two sides of the room and give them the direction to get to the other side without walking. They can skip, hop, march, crawl or get creative. Make this exercise relevant to your speech. For example, you could say to your audience, “You need to get creative to accomplish ____ (your topic).”
Depending on the crowd, you can have them massage the shoulders of each of their neighbors.
Stay Present and Connected
Remember to stay aware of your audience’s signals. Stay connected to them. Consider using PowerPoint less and get creative with your energy. If you want to develop your ability to read your audience and plan some ways for you to engage your audience, let’s chat for a few minutes. Book a complimentary session here with Arvee: https://calendly.com/arveerobinson/30min