“When Your Audience Closes Their Eyes, It Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Listening!”

I was lucky enough to be invited to give a workshop – “Influential Presentation Giving” – to members of The Chartered Institute Of Marketing on Tuesday.

I made the (I think) very good decision not to use PowerPoint. As research has indicated, a presentation that uses the flipchart is likely to be remembered for longer. With PowerPoint, you cannot deviate from your prepared outline. In my case, I asked what concerns my audience had about delivering a presentation and listed them on the flipchart. Then I was able to adapt what I wanted to include the issues.

I connected with my audience. They were intelligent, open and responsive. We generated momentum together.

For instance, I mentioned that a wave isn’t made by water. Instead, it is made by energy moving through water. In the same way, your intention is like the energy and your words are the water. If you direct your intention in the right way, the energy flows so cleanly through the words, it motivates your audience to take the action you want.

Apart from intention, it will also be in how you give your audience your attention. Since you are the instrument, the channel, the conduit through which your intention flows, so you must pay attention to how your audience is receiving it. Nervous clients almost invariably  project their deepest, darkest fears onto their audience and think that’s what they are thinking. They assume their audience is going to be critical and judgemental. I tell them to get out of their audience’s heads. “What they think about you is not your business. You are the messenger, not the hero. Stop getting in the way of your own message.” To be a good presenter, you need endless humility!

I remember a client working for a major drugs company was employed to present research on drug therapy to  senior consultants. She complained that they often crossed their arms and legs – and even, (worse and worse) closed their eyes.  She made the mistake of assuming that this closed body language was a sure sign they were bored and disengaged. She thought of herself as a failure. So I asked whether they took part in Questions and Answers. She was surprised by my question, paused and pondered. She slowly said, “Yes”. They’d asked pertinent questions and discussed the results she’d demonstrated. They showed they had indeed absorbed the information. Their crossed arms and legs – and especially the closed eyes – were to help them to focus on the information without being distracted by the overly active PowerPoint (text on the screen drags attention away from listening to the presenter). Actually they were paying her their best compliment by becoming absorbed and listening very closely.

You may find that those whose first language isn’t English will tend to do the same. They’ll need to listen closely to translate what you’re saying. One of the CIM audience commented he finds in presenting to an international audience, some will look upwards or close their eyes. Again, it doesn’t mean they aren’t listening. Quite the reverse.

Making assumptions based on your performance in the spotlight are likely to be premature and false. If instead you are careful to pay attention to your audience and promote your message, you are far more likely to interpret behaviour accurately.


About anrah

Anrah is a business development consultancy specialising in helping senior women in engineering and science, their teams and doctoral students increase 'presence', improve communication and generate impact to win stakeholder buy-in at the highest level.
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