It’s one of those dreaded speaking situations:  the restless audience.

Why do attendees become restless?

  • it’s almost lunchtime and their stomachs are grumbling
  • you’re boring them
  • they’ve already heard 5 speakers before you
  • they have other things on their agenda they want to get to

As presenters, we become uncomfortable and self-conscious when our audience gets restless. Often, our natural tendency is to speed up in order to quickly finish covering our material and get off the stage.

However, speeding up actually makes the restlessness worse. The audience knows you’re rushing and in anticipation of your finish, your attendees become even more restless, and they stop listening.

Consider borrowing a trick from the world of acting. An actor who detects a restless audience stops dead in her tracks for a moment. This breaks whatever mood has been causing the restlessness.

During a presentation, you can accomplish the same thing with a brief pause. Your audience members will notice that you’ve stopped talking. You can take that moment to decide what to do next.

During small informal talks and workshops, even acknowledging what is going on in the room and inquiring about it can give you useful information that will help you decide whether to get others involved in a conversation, provide a stretch break or an activity, or even sit down.

Share your strategies for handling a restless audience in the comment section below.