Have you ever had a meeting with someone or attend a presentation in which it felt like it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t there. Even if you got up and left, they would still be doing their thing, talking away.

That is clearly a one-sided form of communication and they’re clearly not paying attention to you: the customer (listener). And that is a big mistake.

To be a good communicator, you have to listen to your audience. I know it sounds backwards but it is true. Yes, you are speaking with your audience but you also need to be a good listener, and not just when they’re talking…when you’re talking.

You Can Appear to Read Minds

I sometimes surprise members of my audience when I know they have a question before they’ve even raised their hand.  It’s amazing how much you can learn from your audience, if you’re paying attention and you know what to look for.

Here’s one of my favorite techniques to begin listening to the nonverbal communication your audience is sending. The idea is to use your peripheral vision. When you focus intently on something, like your notes, as many people do while giving a presentation, you are using your fovial vision, which allows you to focus on your notes, while missing everyone else.

When you begin to open up your vision, looking straight ahead but seeing more and more to the left and right of you, this is using your peripheral vision. This is the way you want to look at your audience in order to best see their nonverbal communication.

A Relaxing Effect

Another bonus, going into peripheral vision has a calming affect on the body and I know a lot of you could use a boost of calmness when in front of a crowd. Here’s an exercise you can do with a small group to begin building this skill.

Group Exercise

Get a group of about 4-6 people together. Arrange the group into a semi-circle and have one person stand at the head of the group. This person will take a minute to expand their vision seeing more and more to the left and right while looking straight ahead.

Now have members of the group begin to move and shift. The standing person is simply to point to anyone in the group every time they see them move. You will be amazed at how much movement you will be able to detect.

This simple exercise will give you practice with this important skill so you can begin to put peripheral vision to work for you to help you detect nonverbal communication in your audience and to help calm your nerves the next time you’re up in front of a group. And most importantly, you’ll be able to “hear” what your audience is saying to you, even as you speak.


John Ryan

Host of Key Conversations for Leaders Podcast, Executive Coach, Consultant, and Trainer

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