Check out your audience instead of yourself

Almost everyone has to give a presentation from time to time. Some of you will be asked to take the platform at a conference or a pulpit at church. Once you get over the sheer terror of it (I got over it as a lad in church), you start to look for ways to improve.

Much like a good athelete, you eventually start to watch tape of other people’s speeches and eventually your own — and it gives you great insight. You watch your talks and worry about your clothes, where you moved your hands, how many times you said, “and like” and a host of other things. You imagine that the audience member must be groaning or hope that they are engaged — but you aren’t watching a game tape, just an insolated camera angle (you).

If you want to change the world with a speech, you move them to action by engaging them. If they aren’t moved, they won’t do anything differently after your talk. A few years ago a production company gave me four different DVDs of my talk — center, audience left, audience right and a follow me everywhere angle. They collect all four to cut together a show with the speaker and crowd shots.

By accident I put on the audience left DVD and got floored by all the new insight I was getting. I could still hear my voicer (so I knew where I was in the talk), but finally I could see the truth; the physical audience reactions to me.

After that I began to try, whenever possible, to get tape of a camera on the crowd. Since it was only for me, I’d just bring my portable sometimes and set it up to shoot the crowd. In multi camera setups, I asked the production company for a dub of it. Then I started to think competitively. I began to get copies of tapes with audience angles at my competitor’s talks. I realized, for example, that an audience leans forward to write and wince when you come out with a lapel microphone and a clicker in your hand, but they sit back, relax and get ready to be entertained if you come out with a handheld microphone and no clicker.

Now, I know when a story works, when a point is dragging on and most importantly — what really works. When you watch the audience and then go watch yourself, you know.

Hopefully this is still very valuable to you, even if you only speak on occassion and it is never taped. How? You can be the camera lens. Rehearse, rehearse and then rehearse so you can free up the reptilian brain that can view others and decode their reactions AT THE SAME TIME you are speaking. When you learn this, you can be an audience driven speaker that GIVES a speech and CHANGES behavior (the world).

This is a tough skill to develop, it is the ultimate in multi-tasking, but one to aspire to.

In the meantime, you can always get your audience on tape and check it out later.

That’s what movie execs do to guage how well as film does with a test audience. They look at the crowd, not just the movie.


Recommended read: Give Your Speech, Change The World by Nick Morgan (I know, I’m a Morgan hack at this point, but the whole idea of developing your reptilian brain is totally him. This point will give you quite a bit of advice on how to be an audience centered, and very successful, speaker.