Have you ever been talking to someone when a glazed look covers their face and you know you have lost them? They may be still looking at you but their mind has gone elsewhere. I had that recently with a speech I was giving to a local Toastmasters club on my style of speech delivery. I deemed the speech a failure because I didn’t see them nod or otherwise react.
I realized later that I hadn’t totally lost them – since I could see them all looking at me. But it was kind of like when students are looking at the teacher in order to appear attentive, but not really taking it all in. I’ve been there, done that, so I know the feeling. Some commented later in a way that indicated they had learned, but what I had done was a presentation, not a conversation.
Each speech needs to be a conversation and I pride myself in having a conversational style. In this instance, I failed to follow my own advice and did not do things to draw my audience in. One thing I reminded myself to do next time was to start with a question – like the one I started this post with – that my audience could relate to.
In conversations, we use words, vocal variety, facial expressions, and movement to engage the audience. And in return, we listen and look for reactions from the audience to fine-tune our speech. Are they laughing at our jokes/humor? Are they nodding in agreement, or displaying body language to indicate disagreement? Are they following us with their eyes as we move about the stage or mirroring our expressions? Eye contact works both ways.
A speech should not be a dichotomy of speaker vs audience, but rather the speaker with the audience having an educational moment. The conversation should be two-sided. This applies to ordinary conversations as well. We tend to pontificate or rant or drone in our interactions with others primarily because we are so intent on making our point that we ignore the other(s) we are talking to. We should be talking with them, not to or at them.
I leave you with an updated version of a childhood mantra that we all learned from our parents. They told us to “stop, look, and listen” before crossing the street. I would advise in our conversations and speeches to “pause, look, and listen”. Pause, take a breath and let your point sink in – especially when delivering humor – don’t run over laugh lines. Look at your audience and see if they are hearing you, and reacting. And listen for sounds of reaction. And then adjust accordingly so that the conversation is positive. Make sure you are having a conversation, not just making a presentation,