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Every speaker needs to continually pull the audience to sample their mood, patience, and understanding of your topic, basically to take their temperature. You can do this in a few different ways. Look for visual clues, ask the audience, or bring a friend. I will cover those methods and then I will suggest what you can do to improve the presentation. Let's talk about the first method, looking for visual clues. As you deliver, scan the audience to observe how they're reacting to your message. Their subtle clues can help you out.
Now here are some definite signs that things might not be working out too well: whispering, excessive Use of mobile devices, doodling on the handouts--you'll have to walk around the audience to notice this--glossy-eyed stares and confused looks, giggling, or eye rolling, or anything else that shows distraction. As you can see, it's not just about noticing if people are bored or confused. Your audience might be distracted by something you said or any number of things. Another way to gauge your audience is simply to ask them.
This is especially helpful at the beginning of a presentation. Ask if they can hear you clearly, if they can see the display, and if they are comfortable. During the presentation, engage your audience with periodic questions to make sure they understand your message. This can also break up longer presentations by giving your audience an opportunity to interact. If you are particularly concerned, make sure someone is in the audience to give you a little support. Let them know that you're relying on them for their feedback. Workout some hand signals ahead a time.
The ones you will want are to talk louder or softer, talk faster or slower, time for break or to wrap things up. So now that you know what your audience is thinking, what do you do? The obvious ones, volume and speed, you know how to fix. If people look confused, start asking questions or find out where the confusion is. You might want to even repeat what you said or go into more detail, but always try to ask where they need help. If they are bored, distracted, or not 100 % focused on you, you are going to want to pull them back in.
Here are some suggestions: Ask questions, poll the audience and get them to raise their hand or to stand up, take a break, give the audience a group assignment. Do something intensely interactive, like a trivia game, a handout, or a puzzle or quiz. Tell a personal story. Ask for a testimonial, or segue into a video. Now, not all of these will work for your presentation or message, but consider what your plan B is before you begin. Repeat the feedback cycle often during your presentation and the audience will stay focused on your message.
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