Cues, Cues, Everywhere: How to Read Your Audience

Part 2: Where is the ideal listener?


I have a client who tells me she that when she’s giving a presentation she likes to take “the pulse” of the audience every few minutes. She stays in touch with her audience by reading their cues. She looks first for the friendly faces and then she looks for other behavioral signals. When she can see, hear and feel the energy of an engaged, enthusiastic group then she knows she is connecting with them.


Here are some of the positive behaviors to look for when you’re reading your audience:



·         Nodding and smiling

·         Leaning forward

·         Taking notes

·         Making eye contact with you

·         Looking serious, intent and interested

·         Asking relevant questions

·         Laughing at your stories or jokes


When you see and hear these kinds of cues, you know that your connection with your audience is secure. These signals give you abundant feedback that you are doing and saying exactly what you need to do to keep your listeners involved.


But what happens when the cues change, when you begin to see different signals? What if your audience stops responding altogether and you begin to lose them completely?


If the energy drops and the audience becomes quiet and stops responding, it usually means they want you to do something. It is their way of telling you to turn up the heat—and quickly! Through their behavior they are asking you to take control and to take action. They want you to do more to reach out to them, to be more compelling, and to help them stay involved. When you face a cold crowd, your job is to warm them up. And to do this you must work harder to earn their participation. If you fail to read their cues you could move further and further away from your connection with them. So learn to read the following negative signals that will tell you when your connection to your audience is in jeopardy.


·         Glazed eyes, eyes closing, nodding off

·         Yawning, silence

·         Avoiding eye contact with you

·         Leaning away, frequent body shifting

·         Checking blackberry or cell phone

·         Frequent side conversations

·         Asking hostile questions, interrupting

·         Walking out of the room


These positive and negative signals are just the tip of the iceberg. There are literally hundreds of small cues the audience sends you every minute. Reading these cues will empower you to take charge and actively invite audience involvement. But the tricky part is this: As the speaker, you must be thoroughly prepared and well rehearsed so that you can multi-task when you’re in front of a group. If you know your material and have practiced your delivery you will be able to modify your message and behavior on the spot based on the reaction you’re receiving from your audience. That’s when you become capable of commanding attention and keeping your audience right where you want them to be.


So, the next time you give a presentation take “the pulse” of your audience and pay attention to the cues. When you do you will find all the information you need to make a meaningful connection right before your very eyes.