For most of the six hours I was conducting the seminar, I had an attendee in the third row who mostly stared at the ceiling with his mouth partially open.
It distracted me greatly and made me a little crazy. After all, if he thought the seminar was that bad, couldn’t he at last have pretended to be interested.
So at the end of the day when I saw him making his way to me, I expected the worst. Not only did he think I sucked, but he was going to tell me specifically why.
“I just wanted to tell you..” he started…
“…that this was the best seminar I’ve ever attended. I’ve been to a few and they ranged from worthless to pretty good, but you really delivered today. Thank you.”
I shook his hand and expressed my appreciation while slightly in shock.
As I thought about it, I learned an important lesson: an audience member’s non-verbals provide clues, but not conclusions.
Lots of laughter is a obviously a confirmation of well received humor. But other behaviors are less definitive.
Some audience members can not only fake interest but can game a speaker by how they position their cell phone or computer. And “note taking” can actually be social media posting.
Sometimes a speaker is pleasantly surprised, as I was, that the reaction of the audience member appears less than receptive but isn’t.
The point is to use caution in assuming what an individual or audience’s reactions really mean. A speaker can too quickly reach incorrect conclusions when all they really observed were unconfirmed clues.