Part 1 of The Human Side of Speaking in Public

(3-minute read)

We’ve all been there: leading a presentation, running a meeting,  sitting in an interview.

We’re nervous and don’t want to fail, so we rely on non-verbal cues from the audience to reinforce that we’re doing a good job. But when we look around the room, here’s what we see; our audience is


Sitting with arms crossed

Typing on phones

Looking unemotional

Checking a watch



I’m Failing!


In a flash, panic sets in.
That little voice in the back of our head says, ‘You’re bombing!’
You know you are failing. You want to flee the scene.
Well, maybe you are failing – but more likely, you’re not.

Because we are taught from a young age to sit quietly and listen, our tendency is to equate any action that isn’t rapt attention as a sign of boredom.

Our first reaction is to interpret the above behaviors as

She disagrees with or doesn’t believe me!

They’re answering emails and posting to Facebook!

They’re sleeping with their eyes open!

He can’t wait to bolt out of the room!

She’s moved on to arts and crafts!

Our next reaction is to hyper-focus on the audience members exhibiting the behavior. We keep checking in with the ‘watch checker’ and the ‘doodler’ to see if we’ve captured their attention.

But continually checking in with specific audience members is a huge distraction, making it much harder to deliver our material or lead the group. And, after all that checking in, we still don’t really know if those people are interested or not. But one thing is certain; we are now even more nervous and we’ve created a vicious cycle that reinforces any doubt we have about our own abilities.


Consider This…

The truth is, that despite the negative voice in our own head, most people don’t want us to fail. Why? Because someday they may be in exactly the same place, leading a meeting or presenting information and they will want their audience to support them!

Consider this ‘read’ of the same behaviors


‘Wow, this is interesting. I’m captivated’

‘This is great. I have to write it down’

‘So much to take in. I’m listening to every word’

‘Such good info. I definitely have questions at Q and A’


‘When I doodle I absorb information better’

(Check it out-Harvard Health article on The Thinking Benefits of Doodling)

How You’ll Know

But how will you know for sure? Here are some ways to test your read of the room.

1) Stop talking
Pause and ask for input from the group. ‘These findings are based on my research or experience, but let’s expand the conversation and hear from the audience.’

2) Acknowledge the time
‘I see from the clock that we are 10 minutes away from Q and A/end of the meeting. I am looking forward to your questions and hearing your thoughts.’

3) Share the responsibility
‘We’ve been talking a lot about X. Before we continue, have we left anything out?’

Have Courage

Getting a real read of your audience takes courage. It requires giving up a bit of control and asking for opinions that may differ from yours. So when asking for comments, make sure you have built in enough time for discussion.

Be prepared. The feedback you get may change the emphasis of your remarks. Practice the way in which you ask for feedback. Think about responses to the questions or challenges you may hear. If you don’t know the answer to a question, promise (and deliver) that you’ll get the information in a timely manner. Ask the other audience members to weigh in with their thoughts on the question.

You may not captivate every member of your audience, but taking the time to pause and begin a conversation creates a shared experience, one that is inclusive of your audience, and one that is a lot less stressful for you.

Proactively reading the room will definitely
make you a better public speaker.

Try it yourself and let me know how it goes!

Coming in March, Part 2 of The Human Side of Speaking in Public…
‘How to Become a Persuasive Public Speaker’

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