How can you effectively communicate when speaking in a meeting, demo, or even a sales pitch if the process starts before even one word is spoken? The effective communication starts when you start planning for your speech. You need to consider your audience, consider your venue, consider what you will wear. It is no wonder people get overwhelmed. I do not intend to focus on every step along the way during this Communication Corner. I will focus on a topic which can give you better results and greater return. I will focus on reading a room. If you can effectively read a room, your message will be better conveyed.
You may have heard advice about picturing people in their underwear in the room to make speaking easier. However, the key is confidence. Many people don’t have this confidence, because they do not know how to read a room accurately. I use a simple three step approach. I remember the approach by simply recalling an O.W.L. is wise. Let me explain what I mean below:
- O – Observe – Observing the room is key. Observe everything from the room, to the people, to the clothes they wear. When you walk into a room look for anything which could be a distraction for the audience and remove those if possible. Look to see who is sitting next to others. See who is talking to each other. Who is smiling? Who is alone? Who seems to be distracted?
I often like to get to a room early, setup, and then sit in the audience and talk with others. When the time is right I get up and walk up front to speak. This gives you a chance to observe and interact with others without them being guarded against you.
While speaking watch their body language. Do they keep eye contact with you when you walk around? Do they smile? Are they yawning? This key is to watch and look. Be engaged. Don’t just recite or read words.
- W – Watch how much you talk – If you are talking all the time and just keep reciting your words, you have no chance to Observe. Allow others to be heard. Ask the audience to give answers. Look for the opinion of others. Make them feel important and make them have a voice. When they are done speaking, take a pause. It makes it seem as if you are processing their words. You are giving their words importance. Don’t just start speaking right after they finish. Remember to make eye contact.
- L – Let the audience direct you – Finally, if you observe and you watch how much you talk you will be able to let the audience direct the speech. This may sound dangerous, but remember you are the expert on the subject. Rather than lecturing everyone, you should be able to engage with the audience. If they seem bored tell a story or joke to re-engage with them. If they do not seem interested, ask them questions. Let the audience be your guide.
If you follow those three simple steps you will no longer go through the motions of reading or reciting a speech, but rather you will be smart about your speaking. You will be Wise. This does not mean you do this once and you become an expert at reading a room. Just like anything else, practice is the key to mastering reading a room. Keep practicing these steps and you will become better at reading a room.