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Adapting to Your Audience During and After Your Speech

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

Preparing for your speech is only one way in which a speaker can ensure audience adaptation. You need a keen eye for non-verbal cues during and after the speech to determine whether your audience is paying attention.

Audience Adaptation During a Speech

So, you're giving the speech of a lifetime. You worked your entire career to present your findings on the benefits of grooming a cat with aluminum foil rather than a standard brush. The stage is set, visuals are at the ready and you even brought in a cat for a live demonstration.

The speech starts out just fine. Fervent feline fans are leaning forward with their eyes wide open. They are all ears. As you scan the room, you are actually conducting an audience analysis, which is the process of determining through non-verbal cues whether the audience is actually interested in what you have to say.

As you drone on about the advantages of agitating a cat's fur with foil, you notice that something took a turn - for the worst. The audience is stirring in their seats. Some look away while others hiss and literally scratch their heads in dismay.

What's happening to your well-intended speech? Your audience is sending non-verbal cues that tell the speaker through actions that the audience is no longer attentive to the message.

There are several non-verbal cues the audience may send:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Confused or sour facial expressions
  • Fidgety actions
  • Absence of physical agreement, like nodding
  • No response to questions or statements

There are two clear options that the speaker can exercise here. The first, run from the stage and into a getaway car fast. Or you can try something less bold.

If you see that you are losing your audience, try telling a story rather than preaching to them. This may create a more inviting environment. Since you are on a roll about cat grooming, you may want to say something that the audience can identify with. Maybe you could ask the audience if they detest fur on their pant legs. The audience may nod or give you a big thumbs up. This is happening because you are engaging them into the speech.

Retell the important purpose of the speech. This may motivate the audience to listen up. Sometimes, a speaker can lose an audience by providing too many facts or statistics, turning the speech from exciting to boring quickly.

If you notice the audience drift off, rethink the details of the speech. Maybe the audience doesn't need to know how many pieces of fur a cat loses in one day. Confused looks may require a quick recap of the information. Maybe you need some other way to restate your point. Visuals work well for this.

Snores from the crowd are a sure sign that you lost them. Show a short video or demonstrate something on stage. Perhaps displaying a before-and-after slideshow of a couple of coiffed cats will do the trick.

Tell an appropriate joke if you have to. Injecting a bit of humor into a boring speech will perk up the mood. If the time is right, have the audience ask a few questions. You can even invite members up on stage to assist you with a live demonstration.

Sometimes, it is not until after the speech that you realize you may have lost them at hello. There are ways to assess audience response even after the lights go down.

Audience Adaptation After a Speech

Analyzing audience response after the speech can be done in a few ways. Think about the end of the speech. Did the audience applaud? This is a sure sign that they enjoyed your information.

Was the applause thunderous or were there only a few people half-heartedly clapping? And I don't mean your mother and your cat. If there were only a few people left in the audience when you finished, you may have ignored all of their cues during the speech.

This brings us to their faces. When you looked up from your notes, did the audience look pleased? Were they scratching their heads? Worse yet, did you have to tap the microphone to awaken them? This is never a good sign.

Speaking of making noise, one thing that will uncover the truth about your talk is questions directed to the audience. If the audience raised their hand to ask a question, it means they were listening. Never take questions to mean that the audience wasn't paying attention in the first place. It may have meant that they needed further clarification of an important point.

Don't stop there. You may uncover even more if you present the audience with a more anonymous way to critique your speech. Hand your audience a short survey at the end of your speech. See what they have to say.

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