What You Can Do When Your Audience Tunes Out

11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Bob Beeisenbach
11 Deadly Presentation Sins by Rob Biesenbach

Your audience will forgive you for almost anything – except being boring. Long before you ever take the platform, you must design and rehearse your presentation to catch your audience from the first line and keep them enthralled. Elements of a powerful presentation include: a strong opening, clear structure, emotional connection, memorable stories, well-paced delivery, eye contact, and on-message body language. Fine-tuning these aspects of your presentation is the best way to ensure that you won’t lose your audience mid-speech. However, in the middle of a presentation, is there anything you can do if you notice that your audience is actually tuning out? In his book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins, my friend and colleague Rob Biesenbach provides some excellent strategies you can use if you find yourself in this situation. I share an excerpt here:

Read Your Audience

The true value of body language for public speakers comes in discerning what’s going on in the minds of your audience members. Are they bored? Annoyed? Skeptical?

You should be able to figure that out by noting if they are restless, slouched back in their chairs, reluctant to return eye contact, chattering among themselves, yawning, frowning, furrowing their brows, leaving the room, throwing things at you, etc.

In fact, modern technology has blessed us with an easy-to-read signal of an audience’s engagement: the smartphone. Whereas in days of yore, audience members would flip through their program or sneak a peek at a newspaper or just stare blankly into space, today they freely bury their faces in their cell phone screens.

There’s always going to be some of that going on. (And some of those people might actually be live-tweeting your speech.)

But if most people are surfing and texting? Or if more and more people become immersed in their screens as your speech goes on? That’s a sign that whatever you’re doing isn’t working.

Make a Change

Rob Biesenbach
Rob Biesenbach, Author of 11 Deadly Presentation Sins

So it’s probably a good idea to shake things up. Here are a few things you can do to turn things around:

  • Increase your energy.
  • Quicken the pace.
  • Skip to a different section of the speech.
  • Ask a question.
  • Take an informal survey.
  • Start an exercise.

Whatever you do, don’t just stick with your original game plan and hope for the best. As we all know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Rob Biesenbach is an independent corporate communications pro, actor, author and speaker. He is a former VP at Ogilvy PR Worldwide and press secretary to the Ohio Attorney General, and has written hundreds of speeches for CEOs and other executives. He is also a Second City trained actor who has appeared in more than 150 stage, commercial and film productions in the past decade. His first book, Act Like You Mean Business: Essential Communication Lessons from Stage and Screen, was published in 2011 by Brigantine Media. His latest book, 11 Deadly Presentation Sins offers a path to redemption for public speakers, PowerPoint users, and anyone who has to get up and speak in front of an audience. For more information visit: http://robbiesenbach.com

Thank you Rob!

How to Deal with Distractions During Your Presentation,” “How to Keep Your Audience From Going to Sleep,” and “When They Do Not Laugh—What Do You Do?” are a just a few of the many articles on Fripp.com to help you handle unexpected public speaking challenges like a pro.

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