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The power to read a room

Learning to read a room is one of top three "super powers" you'll need to learn to be an effective speaker.
Learning to read a room is one of top three "super powers" you'll need to learn to be an effective speaker.
Photo (c) huaxiadragon /, Design: Carma Spence

After passion and authenticity, one of important aspects of speaking mentioned most often by speakers interviewed for the forth-coming book Public Speaking Super Powers was reading a room.

What does that mean?

Reading an audience happens when you are in tune with and aware of your audience mood, attention and engagement level. It means you know when they are paying attention and when they are starting to drift away. I means you know when they need a boost of enthusiasm and when they need you to pause.

It also means you know when they understand what you are saying and when you’ve lost them.

Depending on who your audience is, the power to read a room is either something you can learn or something that is intrinsic to who you are. Reading a room has been described as something you can research with pre-event surveys. But it also has been described as something that you can only do when you are in front of the audience and experiencing the room's energy. In other words, reading a room is part "science" and part "art."

Whatever the power to read a room is, developing it is an important part of becoming a successful public speaker. It empowers you to tailor your presentation for the needs of those present in the room on the fly. It empowers you to make sure your message is delivered effectively. It empowers you to deliver your message more powerfully, more engagingly and more appropriately.

Here are some tips for improving your power to read a room:

- Do your research. Find out as much about your intended audience ahead of time. You can do this by researching the group on the Web, talking to the event planner who booked you, conducting a survey or even just chatting with a few of the people who will be there.

- Be present. Know your presentation well enough that you don't need to keep your mind fully upon each word that exits your mouth. This will free up some of your energy to be aware of your audience.

- Become a student of body language. Learn about the different ways people show that they are engaged, interested, bored, distracted and so forth. This way you'll be able to use the next tip effectively.

- Maintain eye contact. When you are actually looking at the people in your audience, you'll be better able to see the tell tale signs of engagement … or lack there of.

- Learn about the skill and practice as much as you can. Here are a few articles online that might help you get started.

And, of course, to help you keep an audience's attention — whether you read them or not — learn the basics of keeping their attention in the first place!

Would you like more information about public speaking? Visit for tips, advice and plenty of videos about all the "powers" you can employ in your speaking endeavors.

NOTE: Are you a Long Beach based speaker? Do you know of an upcoming speaking event? Contact me to have an interview with you published in this column.

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