The Audience Will NOT React to Your Speech… And Why That’s OK

When we first start speaking in public, we have a desire to be reassured by the audience.

We subconsciously look for positive reactions from the crowd to signal that we are doing a good job.

But if you think about, while this is understandable (we’re nervous and anxious and looking for reassurance), it’s unrealistic.

Just think about when you are sitting in an audience watching someone speak: do you nod vigorously and smile at them every other minute?

Of course not. If you are like most people, you just sit there staring blankly at them, until they finish.

This is the normal demeanor of most people. So prepare for that when you give your speech.

Don’t expect the audience to be jumping up and down singing your praises with every point you make. If they do, great. But don’t expect it.

Expect them to be quiet, respectful, and subdued.

If they are sitting quietly looking at you, that’s good. It means they are paying attention to you and are valuing what you are saying.

From your perspective on stage or in the front of the room, they will seem stoic and unmoved, but don’t worry, they are paying attention.

There are few and rare exceptions to this rule:

  • They are taking notes (a good sign)
  • They are nodding their heads as you speak (a good sign)
  • They are laughing (a good sign)
  • They are turning away (probably a bad sign, although that person may just need to use the bathroom)
  • They are looking at their phone (neither good nor bad)
  • They are talking to each other (neither good nor bad, unless it’s excessive, in which case it’s bad)

Basically, if the audience as a whole is sitting still, with one or two people nodding or taking notes, and one or two others looking at their phone or whispering to someone else or turning away from you, you can assume you are doing well.

Ultimately, it’s pointless to worry about the audience’s reactions in the middle of your speech, unless you have the ability to quickly change your tone, bring up a new point or suddenly take the presentation in a new direction (which is a more advanced skill set).

For most people reading this, you can’t change their reactions, so just do the best you can in the moment and try to have a positive attitude.

Leave the analysis and preparation for before the speech, and after the speech. You can improve your speech and your style in rehearsal before, and in reflection after your speeches.

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