How to Tell If Your Audience Is Engaged

February 21, 2015

Sean Holladay

Sean Holladay is the Co-Founder of Crowd Mics an award winning app that turns your phone into a wireless microphone.  He is the CCO or Chief Connection Officer as he is able to connect with and converse with just about anyone on LinkedIn.

Two event organizers walk into a room and scan the audience. Upon leaving the room, the first event organizer says, “No one is engaged. They are all texting and reading emails or having side conversations.” The other event organizer says, “You’re wrong. Those people were taking notes, and sharing sound bites on social media. The others were debating what the speaker was saying.”

The problem with perception is that everyone creates their own. Which of these organizers is right? Which of these perceptions is reality? Unless you start looking over your attendees’ shoulders, it’s going to be hard to know what they are in fact doing on their electronic devices. Luckily there are other ways to determine if your attendees are engaged.

Three observation techniques, when combined, will tell you for certain if your attendees are engaged. The first is interpreting non-verbal cues correctly, the second is to pay attention to verbal cues, and the third is analyzing session evaluations.

Let’s first look at non-verbal cues. Take a look around the room. Are people slouching in their chairs, yawning and fidgeting? Are they slow to respond when the speaker prompts them to take an action? Those are signs your audience may, in fact, be bored.

If the audience is leaning forward in their chairs or sitting with a relaxed posture, nodding their heads, or smiling, they are most likely engaged and paying attention to the speaker. However, positive non-verbal communication is not the only indication your attendees are engaged. They might be frowning and or shaking their heads. They may purse their lips and cross their arms. While not in agreement with the speaker, these attendees are actively engaged.

Non-verbal cues are also important. Are your attendees groaning or laughing in the right moments? Are they applauding? Is it a polite, soft applause or is it done with enthusiasm? Are they raising their hands and asking questions? If your audience is doing these things and doing them with vigor, they are engaged.

However, a room that is silent does not necessarily mean they are bored. Check the non-verbal cues to understand if the speaker has completely lost the audience’s interest, or if she has them hanging on her every word.

Your final way to gauge your attendees’ engagement is by coming right out and asking them. While asking questions about the setup of the room and the quality of the speaker is good feedback for the event organizer, it doesn’t tell you much about the level of engagement. To understand engagement you need to focus your questions on the content of the session.

Three great questions to ask are:

What was your top takeaway from this session, or a simple open-ended what did you learn from this session?

As a result of this session what will you do differently or what do you feel you will do better?

As a result of this session what are three actions you will take when you get back to your office?

If your audience was engaged, they will have answers to these questions and be willing to share them. Even if they disagreed completely with the speaker, they would most likely have something to share. An attendee that was not engaged will either skip the evaluation, or they will give very vague answers.

When you combine all three of these observation techniques, you’re perception of your attendees’ engagement levels will be much closer in keeping with the reality of the situation.

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