Improvise. And Then Improvise Again.
When you’re on a football team, you need to stick to the play your coach told you to run, otherwise you run the risk of confusing your team. If you’re involved in a theatrical production, you need to stick to the script so you don’t throw off your fellow actors. However, when you’re on stage working alone, the more improvising you do, the better.
One thing to know about speaking is that you can never anticipate the mood of your audience, the weather that day, current events, the temperature of the room, the lighting, the size of the space, the quality of the microphone, or the availability of technical support. Because of this, speakers must be ready to improvise at all times. You could have the best planned talk, but that doesn’t fly if your audience has been sitting at a conference for the last eight hours and they’re all tired and sore from being crammed in a chair all day. If this is the case, you’re not doing your audience any favors by ignoring this fact and having them continue to sit and listen. Chances are, they’re not listening anyway.
When you notice your audience’s needs have changed from what you planned, it’s your responsibility as the leader to switch gears. As you learned in a previous lesson, you may need to have them pair up into teams to talk about what they’re learning. Maybe you’ll have someone get on stage and you could interview them. Perhaps you’ll do a Q&A-style presentation instead of a straight monologue.
Seasoned speakers are trained to read their audience and intuit what they need without asking. Often, reading the crowd’s body language, the volume of chatter before starting, and the environmental elements like uncomfortable chairs or bad acoustics will act as clues to make a change. Start to become aware of your space, the people around you, and where your audience was before they arrived. If your talk is at 7:30 in the morning and everyone looks like they woke up five minutes ago, you want to address that by doing something energizing. Same goes for talks after lunch, when everyone may be sluggish. Ignoring your audience’s needs is what creates a barrier for them to be fully engaged in your presentation. If you want to give that talk again or leave a good impression, paying attention to your audience and improvising as needed will greatly increase your chances of a positive review.
Things to pay attention to:
• Time of day
• Where your audience is coming from
• Size of the space
• Temperature of the space
• Comfort of the chairs
• General mood of the crowd
• Current events
• Body language
• Volume of chatter
• Energy of the room
Next time, we’ll cover why less is more when you give a talk. Many speakers have a tendency to pack as much as they can into their presentations, leaving their audience’s heads spinning. Avoid that using the “50% Rule.”
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