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    Reading Your Audience

    By: Jeff Gau
    April 7, 2011

    Public speaking has not only become a part of my job, but an essential skill for any effective leader. I am often asked to give client presentations when we’re competing for business. I do as much prep-work as I can; however, I have learned that my success rate is determined not only by my delivery, but how well I assess and respond to the audience.

    I still remember preparing to speak to a group of decision makers at the University of St. Thomas. Marco was one of two finalists for a large five-year print contract. My material was well-prepared and I was confident in my ability to deliver a good presentation. When I walked in the room, it was evident that it was a more casual atmosphere. So I took off my suit coat and tie and went on to present why we should be the college’s preferred partner for the project. I walked out feeling good about the meeting and later learned we earned the university’s business.

    When our sales manager, Eric Casteel, asked the university’s decision makers what led them to choose Marco, they shared the unexpected. They said Marco was not the front runner going into the presentation, but when the CEO took off his suit coat and tie and delivered a good message, it showed that the company pays attention to its customers.

    That day provided a powerful lesson: the better you read your audience (customer), the better odds you have of winning the business.

    What is your body language saying?
    Remember whether written, verbal or nonverbal, effective communication is “defined by the receiver” – not the sender. Being a good presenter goes beyond the words we use and how we deliver them. It also includes our body language and how we interact with our audience.

    It’s important to recognize that when we’re reading other people’s body language, they are also paying attention to ours. The moment I walked into the university that day, the decision makers were assessing my body language and forming an opinion about me and our company. What message do you want to send?

    Some people’s body language speaks louder than others and some of the smallest actions can make the biggest impact. Your audience communicates to you through what they’re wearing, how they are sitting in their chairs, or where they are seated in the room. In addition, who the audience members look to on their own team helps indicate who may be the final decision maker. Effectively using our own body language and reading others’ can prove to be a differentiator in a presentation.  

    Reading the Crowd
    I regularly speak in front of groups of people – and as I shared earlier, often times, it’s because we are competing to win business. What happens in those 30 minutes – or less – determines if we win or lose. Before I leave these presentations, I usually know how we performed without any of the decision makers saying a word. Here are just a few ways I read a crowd to improve results:

    · Be prepared. I know this sounds cliché, but you really can’t skip this step. I take time to learn about my audience prior to the presentation. Just last month, I was asked to speak to a class of MBA students about validating corporate culture. Before I crafted my presentation, I asked the professor for a profile of the students. I learned the majority came from large employers like General Mills and Best Buy so I needed to speak in terms of department and division applications to keep my messages relevant.

    · Take time for introductions. If possible, I have everyone share their names, titles and what they hope to take away from the presentation. Then I actually write their names in the order of where they are sitting. This allows me to further focus my message and speak directly to them, using their name during the presentation.

    · Look at the audience members and ask questions to those who are less engaged. This will help keep people’s attention and stay more involved in the conversation.

    · Constantly read body language and adjust. Who’s making eye contact and nodding their heads? Is anyone looking at the clock or checking their email on their smart phones? This is a good opportunity to adjust your presentation to re-engage.

    If you subscribe to the theory that people buy from people they like – and by the way they do – then the desired outcome of every presentation should be to motivate your audience to listen and like you and your company.  I want them to feel our passion and often use personalized nonverbal communication to interact with them. I challenge you to use and read body language to be a more effective communicator.

    Topics: Public Speaking
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