Can you really tell when your audience has had a full feed of information?
Amazingly the answer lies in the eyes and ears of the participants.
Look first at the eyes
And if you look at the eyes, you'll think you're the best speaker on the planet. You'll think your audience is rapt with attention. This is because the audience will be looking at you with amazing concentration.
Experienced speakers call this the ‘deer in the lights syndrome'. When the audience is staring back at you, it's not because they're over-excited with your information. In fact they're tired.
Those eyes staring back at you are their attempt just to keep their concentration going. Eyes that are fluid, easy-going are ‘learning eyes'. Eyes that stare back at you are eyes that are tired and are forced to focus—hence the ‘deer in the lights' stare. And the eyes are only one indicator.
The other indicator is the ear
Look at the ears of the members of the audience. Are they bright red or a deep shade of pink?* If they are, it means your audience has had enough. The more tired a participant gets, the more the ears seem to get a deep colour. This gives you fair warning that you need to back off; that the audience needs a break. Or that you just need to stop the workshop for the day.
And if the ears and eyes don't give you the feedback you need, the sigh of relief will do just that.
Announce that you're going to have a break and you'll feel that wave of relief go through the room.
And this may be contrary to what you expect. As a diligent trainer you want to really give your audience the most possible information. And you really want them to learn.
But learning is not done by force-feeding. When the eyes and the ears start to give you signals, you have to be in a position to watch for those signals and react accordingly.
But what if you're on the last day of your workshop and there's a ton of learning still to go?
Well you need to plan better for the next workshop, so that your audience never gets to this point in the first instance. But let's say you're stuck in a workshop and there's no way out.
C'mon, there's always a way out. You can offer to send them a video or a follow up course. In today's world you can teach anything via the Internet, and if you can't finish, then offer to send follow up stuff later. And the audience will be grateful.
Their eyes will blink again.
Their ears will turn drop a few shades of red.
And they'll consider you to be a brilliant trainer, because you detected the tiredness in the room.
And you, you know that you didn't really detect any tiredness. All you did was look at their eyes. And their ears.
And you knew. You just knew.
*The ears trick is a little trickier with darker skin. The darker the skin, the less the indication on the ears. In which case either look for the lighter skin in the room, or just focus on the eyes.
Do you know other ways to tell when your audience has had enough of information? Share your workshop idea here.
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linda wilson says
I check out the nearest writing pads – if the notes have turned to bunches of flowers or spiders, I know it’s time to go!
Sean D'Souza says
Once the questions slow down (or worse stop!) and the enthusiasm and energy is leaking out of peoples pores and they start to slump, sit up, stretch – I know the “deer in the headlight eyes” are just around the corner.
Sean D'Souza says
Yes, to me at least, the ‘fidget’ is a good indicator.
I do periodic thumb checks by asking them to show thumbs up, down or in-between; thumbs parallel to the ground or thumbs down mean it’s time for a break
Sean D'Souza says
That’s a good one too, but it can often throw you as a speaker. There can be reasonably aggressive people in a room, that just want out. And once you give them the power to stop your speech/presentation, then you have to comply.
How do you deal with such a situation?
I seek them out during breaks and try to connect with them and make them feel important
The more I focus on the audience and the less on myself, the better the program goes
When they start looking at their watches…
…and then start tapping them or shaking them to see if they’re stuck or stopped.
Sean D'Souza says
Oh that’s definitely wayyyyy too late. 😉
Sometimes it’s not that the participants have had a full feed of information, it’s that they’ve had enough of that specific concept or exercise that you’re doing now. Especially if they’re struggling with it or not getting it. I’ve seen people keep going because they absolutely want the participants to get it now. But doing that just enhances the frustrations/tiredness that participants are feeling. I’ve found that changing tack and coming at it from a different angle, or just moving to something else entirely and coming back later, can let you re-engage participants and get fresh faces again : )
Sometimes it’s just the environment in a room as well. The lighting, the atmosphere, heat, etc. are tiring in themselves. It can really change the feeling in a room to just stop everything and do some breathing and stretching.
But if you’re just getting the ‘glazed cherry’ look, it’s game over!
As a teacher I often experience quite a handful of signs of feeling filled up with information. The eyes are good indicators: they really tell you when something hasn’t gone through. Tiredness is a typical sign of getting stuck too. Escaping, headache, finding unrelated activities – they are all cool feedback.
You are right, Sean, when one sees the signs, it is better to step back a bit and approach the topic or audience in a slightly different way so that the learning process can be back to normal i.e. happy and exciting.
Great article. Resonates with me. Thanks.
Marla Zemanek says
Honor offered some excellent points. It’s important to be aware of your audience and give short stretch breaks even if it’s shortly after lunch. Glazed eyes are a sign to ask yourself if you’ve gotten off track or beaten a dead horse or your own energy needs a lift. Some presenters continue to oversell or “sing to the choir” long past when they had an attentive group, ready to take action.