CrowdAnd are they really glaring or are they just staring?

We’ve all had the experience: You’re at the front of the room or at the podium talking and you look out at your audience – you actually look at them, you don’t just throw a token glance – and you instantly regret it, it bursts your bubble. The body language and faces are not what you were hoping they would be. There are no warm, welcoming smiles, nor are there any affirming nods of approval.
Ugh! Does that mean you’re tanking? Not connecting or getting through to your audience? Should you keep going with your presentation or is it time to switch gears? You can’t run out of the room, or fall through a hole in the floor, you have to make the best of it. But how?
Stay calm. Keep things in perspective. And, if you feel like it’s more than a few faces – and that they’re really not happy – then open up a dialogue (e.g. Q&A) and find out if you’re right or not.
Audience reactions come in all forms, shapes and sizes. We hope for the best-case scenario – to look out at the audience and see excited, expectant and engaged faces. But we don’t always get that. Very often, we get stone faces or we get that guy in the front row who looks angry, that woman in the middle row on the end who looks like she’s falling asleep, or the other woman in the back looking at her phone.
Whatever you see, don’t panic and don’t judge yourself – or them – too harshly. Keep things in perspective. Especially when the audience is full of strangers, bear in mind that you have no context for interpreting their facial expressions or behaviors. It’s important to remember that one man’s scowl is another man’s look of concentration. And that some people remember and retain better with their eyes closed. And that other people take notes on their phones or other devices.
They are distracting as all get-out, but one or two dissatisfied-looking people in an audience do not make for a failed presentation. There are always a few people in a group who don’t like something, are not quite as enthusiastic or just had the wrong expectation, no question. But there are others who just look unhappy or disinterested. Keep going, keep up your energy level and try to engage audience members as much as possible.
If, however, you are so distracted by the faces that you are beginning to believe that you are, in fact, tanking, then switch gears and open up your presentation for some discussion and dialogue. Ask your audience for their impressions, thoughts, and questions up to that point. That way, you’ll know for sure whether they’re satisfied or not, and engaged with you or not.
The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t let the demeanor and appearance of the crowd, especially one person in the front row, affect your performance. It’s sometimes hard to tell an angry glare from a focused stare.
Beth Levine