Public Speaking – Look For The Smilers In Your Audience

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Recently I gave a presentation at a Summit Conference in New York City and was confronted with a very tame audience. I was blessed, however, to have two women in the large ballroom who smiled throughout, nodding their heads in agreement with everything I said. The second blessing was that these two women were sitting on opposite sides of the room; thus, in acknowledging my two ‘smilers’,I had to scan the room from one side to the other.

In teaching presentation skills, I advocate zeroing in your smilers because they bolster your confidence. Some people smile because they agree with you and some people smile just because they smile. Some people listen with their eyes closed; some people indeed are sleepers.

In a room filled with over 100 attendees, however, I was surprised that I had only two smilers. Without a doubt, this particular group was one of the hardest audiences I have ever faced. In fact, throughout my 40-minute presentation, I questioned their lack of enthusiasm.

Admittedly, the microphone I was handed left much to be desired because it unfortunately was not of the same quality as the stationary mic on the lectern. [And that definitely was my fault for not getting a sound check before speaking. I assumed that because the gentleman speaking prior to me was getting great sound with the stationary mic, so too would I with a hand-held version. Very bad assumption; however, great fodder for the book and audio series I am presently working on for public speaking!]

One attendee, sitting smack dab in the middle of the room and not 10 feet from me, kept nodding off. Of course every audience has a sleeper; and, because the rest of the room was awake, I was not concerned. Interestingly though, while watching the ‘before’ and ‘after’ video clips of my clients, the gentleman whose eyes were half closed, reacted with such sudden force upon seeing Craig, that it took everything in my power not to laugh out loud. (Craig is undoubtedly the best change in a male voice that I have ever encountered.) With his eyes bulging, this sleeper reminded me of a cartoon character who suddenly becomes bug-eyed upon viewing a beautiful woman.

While the time I spent talking about voice and telephone techniques certainly had its challenges, the applause from the audience upon closing was thunderous. Indeed that was unexpected. Aside from the two smiling women, here was a crowd who showed little expression in what I was saying by their most reserved and noncommittal reaction to me. What usually gets a laugh did not. What always gets verbal response did not. And yet they enjoyed my presentation.

What did I learn from this particular audience? That once again, you can never prejudge how you will be received. During your speech or presentation, the reaction of your audience may not be what you expected. It may be better or it could be worse.

My advice is to ignore your sleepers; zero in your smilers; and talk to your audience just as if you were having a conversation in your living room.

The Voice Lady Nancy Daniels is a voice specialist and president of Voice Dynamic. Offering corporate and 2-day workshops throughout the US and Canada, Daniels launched Voicing It! in April of 2006, the only video training course on voice improvement. For more information go to:

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