Audience Analysis: Nonverbal Cues & Clues

Waiter Audience Analysis - Non Verbal Cues and Clues

You’re out to dinner with friends, and one of them is in the midst of telling a great story. She’s gesturing wildly, her intonation ebbing and flowing, her energy rising as the story builds. Just as she’s about to reveal the climax, here comes a waiter to cut her off and announce the evening’s specials.

Sound familiar? Probably. Happens all the time.

Thankfully, as noted in this Wall Street Journal article, restaurants are ditching the robotic, “Here I am, and I will be your server” script. Instead, waiters are being taught how to read the table. One waiter profiled talks about how to read groups: one that is looking at each other probably means they’re friendly; glancing around the room or fidgeting likely equates to an uncomfortable work meeting.

Likewise, you should be ditch the “Here I am, and I will be leading your meeting” script. Also, ditch the “Here I am, and I will be presenting from PowerPoint” script. There should be no such script.

Instead, start by knowing your stuff. Then – like the waiters in the article – have eyes for your audience.

When you walk into the room, are they all business talk? You may need to divert from your planned introduction and warm up the room instead. If they’re laughing and telling jokes? That battle has already been won.

But what if you see them shifting in their chairs or checking the clock? Cut to the chase.

Who cares about your message? You do! Take charge – use these tips as you read your audience:

Vary your intonation: Vocal variety is one the Big 6 behaviors (from You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard) for a reason. We adults tune out pretty quickly. Altering your vocals – raising your voice, lowering it for a moment, pausing  – is the perfect way to recapture everyone’s attention. “I Have a Dream” would not have changed with the world had it been monotone.

Stop talking altogether: Remember when your grade school teacher used to stop mid-sentence when everyone was talking? It’s just as effective to use on a room full of adults, when the “talking” may take place on smart phones and laptops.

Walk towards your audience: Specifically, walk in the direction of anyone whose mind appears to be elsewhere. When someone moves, our brain has to expend a little extra energy following the movement. When someone moves towards you? Even more so.  (And you – or your audience member – will probably even put down that smart phone.)

How have you seen effective communicators reign in a distracted audience? Tell us in the comments.

3 comments on “Audience Analysis: Nonverbal Cues & Clues

    • Thanks, Ricardo. It caught our attention, too! Stay tuned – and let us know what struck you.

  1. Great post!

    One of my best lecturers back in college used to run into the audience with a microphone and ask for the answer to a challenging question related to what was going on in the lecture. We paid attention for fear of public shame.

    One of the big problems I always have with these sorts of techniques is to control a room, without appearing aggressive. The stop mid sentence approach can come across as a bit of a put down. What do you do if the offending parties are clients, or your bosses boss. You want their attention but you also want them to like you.