Learning to read your audience

Mastering nonverbal cues can help you win the room. Here are some ways to keep listeners engaged during your business presentations.


Derek Murray

Delivering presentations

Delivering presentations


Derek Murray

3 minutes

“Body language is a very powerful tool. We had body language before we had speech, and apparently, 80% of what you understand in a conversation is read through the body, not the words.”
–Deborah Bull, English dancer, writer, and former creative director of the Royal Opera House

Taking the temperature of your audience during a presentation can be tricky. After all, there’s no one-size-fits-all formula on how to appeal to your listeners. And what do you do when words only get you so far?

Nonverbal cues are a whole separate language and mastering it can help you win the room. Luckily, Srihari Narasimhan, Senior Director of Global Commercial at Gilead Sciences, has all the tools to carry you across the finish line. In Episode 5 of Think Deeply, Speak Simply—How to Read the Room—Srihari revealed that staying dialed in to your audience throughout your presentation is key for tailoring your approach to their needs.

Here are his favorite ways to keep listeners engaged during meetings of all sizes and formats.

Keep it moving

For in-person meetings, it’s tough to feel connected to someone hiding behind a podium. That’s why Srihari recommends moving around the room at various points in your presentation.

Pause to look at different people, concentrating on them for a few seconds at a time as if you’re speaking straight to them. Once they start nodding along and mirroring your attention, move on to another listener and continue the cycle. This is true for virtual presentations, too. While you might not be able to physically move around the room, you can still take inventory of your audience and speak to them directly.

If you see someone nodding their head in agreement, acknowledge that you see them. If someone has their eyebrows scrunched in confusion, ask if they have a question. This blurs the restrictions of virtual presentations and invites your audience into the conversation.

Avoid being monotone

If you aren’t enthusiastic about your presentation, then your audience will match that behavior. Instead, dial up the energy along with your message. Just because you’re deep in your expertise of the topic being discussed doesn’t mean it’s okay to fall into a monotonous tone.

Engage with different inflection points and pause to slow things down. Be mindful not to race through your delivery as fast as humanly possible. When eyes start to glaze over and your audience seems tuned out, reel them back in with how your message is the relevant solution to their problem. Humor is another great way to break through the noise and recapture their attention.

Shine in your next business presentation with these helpful lessons in communication.
Learn even more by catching up on the full Srihari Narasimhan episode here.