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Listen to the Audience


Techniques Public speaking > Speaking Tips > Listen to the Audience

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Pay attention to the audience at all times to help understand how they are perceiving your presentation and so enable you to dynamically vary what you say and how you say it to best effect.

Listen to what they say before, during and after the presentation. Hear not just the words but also the intent and emotion in what they say.

Talk with several people before your presentation to get a feel for their style of thinking, preferred learning style and general mood. Listen status indicators such as assumptions of expertise or seniority. Notice if they are in awe of you as a speaker (or maybe other speakers on the same platform). Listen to who else they talk about such as their peers or other authorities.

In the presentation, listen for the muttering of people commenting to one another after you make a key point. Does it sound positive? Do they seem to be agreeing? If not, you may want to add more persuasive content. Listen also for the rustling sound of boredom as people shift in their seats.

Listen to their questions: Are they thoughtful and intelligent? Do they show they have understood what you are saying? Are they critical and evaluative? Are they rhetorical statements that do not seek response? Whatever they say, try to respond to the mood as well as the direct question.

Also listen with your eyes as much feedback is available through body language.


I am giving a presentation to a conference audience. During the day before my talk I circulate and listen the the general mood of the people there and ask about the sorts of things they will be seeking. I make a few adjustments to my talk as a result. At the start of the talk I ask 'How are you enjoying the conference?' and gauge the mood from the response. I also listen for rapt silence or bored fidgeting. When boredom creeps in, I ask a question to get their attention and help sharpen my approach.


When doing public speaking, there is a limited opportunity to listen to the audience, which can make it difficult to understand where they are and so increases the possibility of not connecting with them. It is therefore very important to make best use of what listening you can do, including reaching back before the talk begins to get a greater understanding of where they are all coming from.

See also

Listening, Using Body Language, Know Your Audience


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