Want to speak? Be prepared to listen. Really skilled communicators, really dynamic and engaging speakers actively and intimately listen to and observe their audience. By giving his audience his full attention, a speaker is able to figure out what the audience needs to perceive, needs to feel, needs to hear in order to adopt the speaker’s line of thought.
I use the word ‘listening’ to encompass visual information as well as auditory information because really listening to someone involves more than just sensory hearing. To really listen, properly listen. You need to listen with your ears and eyes. You need to listen to words, to silences, to body language, to things said and unsaid.
People provide a huge number of clues about what they think of what you are saying as well as what they want and need you to say. These clues are in the way they dress, their body language, their words, their voice, and more. Are they conservative or trendy? Do they sound nervous or confident? Are they making steady eye contact or regularly looking away? What is their voice quality? What sort of words are they using? Do they seem forthcoming with information, or are they being reluctant or cagey with their answers? Are they focused or distracted?
You can get a ‘feel’ for an audience if you allow yourself to take in their group behaviour. Is there a lot of shuffling or chatting? Are people focused on you? Are they leaning forward and interested, or do they seem aloof? Are people laughing in the right places or responding when you call on them? How are they connected to one another, what commonality has brought this group together?
These kinds of cues, which you will only notice if you are listening carefully, give you the info you need to change your tack mid-speech or mid-pitch. They are the things that let you, the speaker, turn your presentation into a conversation with the audience rather than a mere lecture.
Listen. Listen closely and carefully. Involve your eyes and ears. Use close attention, focus, patience, and practice. It really does open up a whole new world of possibility and nimbleness when you are presenting.