Where is My Audience

Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal.

Happy Holidays to you and yours. Thanks for your condinued readership. What a year it has been. Tell me! Are you Zooming? As that famous therapist, Dr. Phil would say, how’s that working out for yuh? Love it or hate it, Zoom is the new normal. Our audience is in the camera. And that’s where we are now looking from the start to the finish to make your connection. And where do you store that image of your audience? In your mind! So, take a good long look at everyone before you start speaking, as its the last time you should look at them while you are speaking.  

That first moment of your speech is critical. In your opening, you have the full attention of your audience. Even before you utter your first words, your audience is sizing you up. You may only have that one chance to create that first impression. Unfortunately for some, that one chance is the first moment of your talk. When that audience has never seen or heard you before, expectations are at their highest. If you are known as a good presenter, your audience may immediately revert to your previous presentation positively. Now you must match or improve on that last performance.

One of the significant adjustments speakers must make today when speaking over Zoom is holding on to their audience. But it’s scary to think that you risk losing their attention if you look at them on your screen. As a speaker in transition, my advice is to keep an image of your audience in your mind. Imagine how they are responding to you as you speak. That approach takes lots of practice, confidence and, admittedly, is easier said than done, but you will get better with time.    

Feel confident that your opening is strong enough to hold on to the attention your audience has given you. Imagine taking your audience on a journey to another level of consciousness.  A weak opening will leave everyone, including yourself, uninspired and disappointed. Although you should not be looking at your audience, you must feel a strong connection.

Ironically, this is when you must speak as if you are delivering your speech to a mirror. Many years ago, I heard a coach who loves to wear hats say, never practice in front of a mirror.  She said that you are practicing focusing on yourself and not your audience when you do that. So now we practice looking into the camera lens to make our connection. Wow, what a difference a few years make.

With that said, your topic selection is most important. When your listeners can relate to your topic, they will listen to you and pay closer attention. However, your introduction must hold on to the gift and the initial spotlight on you, the speaker. In your opening, grab your audience’s attention and hold on to it. Pleasantries and excuses for any reason are nonstarters – get to your point, purpose, and your presentation.  Keep in mind that you are on your speaking platform wherever you are.  The basics of delivering a speech, talk, or presentation are in play. And what are those fundamentals?

First, you want to introduce your topic with a title.  I make my title function like a light switch. I ask myself, would this title switch my audience on or off? Is it going to give away my speech? Will it offer a hint of what’s to follow?  Even if your presenter announced your title in your introduction, it’s an excellent idea to include a version of it in your opening. A follow-up comment about your introduction, if appropriate, is always a good ice-breaker.

Next, lay down your foundational statement – check in with your audience with a question to establish rapport. And then, transition smoothly into the body of your presentation. Remember, you are doing this blindly, so use your imagination. Focus on the details and speak with your entire body. Use vocal variety, gestures, and eye contact. Finally, let your audience tell you how you did. That’s why we receive evaluations and feedback.

One delivery mistake which always seems magnified over Zoom is repetition. What’s said already should only be repeated when summarizing or making a call-back to a person, place, or thing. Enthusiasm, too little or too much,  sticks out like a soar thumb. But on the flip side, here is one technique that works well and holds your audience’s attention. Make a promise early. Remind them about that promise a few times during the presentation. And make sure you fulfill that promise before you close.

Another negative is appearing angry or frustrated for your entire presentation. Every emotion should be for a purpose. If your demeanor exhibits one feeling for the whole speech, that will negatively resonate with your audience. Being entirely positive or negative can also be a turnoff. Strike a balance with your content. Contrast is an excellent technique to pique your listener’s interest. Whatever you do, your gold should be to draw your audience to you, the speaker, your message, and the value of your presentation.

Speaking over Zoom can be lots of fun. But, where is my audience? That might still be a troubling question for some speakers. Well, in Zoom, they are right there in the room, inches away from you. Keep that in mind as you prepare your presentation.  Zoom can help us all prepare for better speaking days.  When we go back to face-to-face or hybrid meetings, we should all be more conscious about what it takes to make and hold on to our connection with audiences.

I believe some of us may need many therapy sessions to deal with the images left in our minds from Zooming,  And we all know treatment isn’t cheap; ask Dr. Phil. However, over time I believe we all will be better presenters and better prepared for our audience whenever we return to meeting face-to-face. And we don’t have to ask the question –  Where is my audience?

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmasters in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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