Audience Check-In Tips

Ask someone who’s just delivered a presentation how things went, and you often hear something like, “Um…I think it went pretty well.” Ask further, “What might be different for the audience as a result of the presentation?”–and you may see shrugged shoulders and a quizzical expression on his/her face. Don’t know about you, but I tend to desire a stronger sense of how things have gone when I’ve presented…so, I want more data from the audience. I want to do some research. I want to know what—if any—delta (change) has occurred. So, I conduct “mini-debriefs” or “audience check-ins” throughout my deliveries.

To “debrief” means to “question to obtain knowledge or gather intelligence.” It’s helpful to begin debriefs with open-ended questions such as:

* What are you thinking about after that content?
* What–if anything–struck you about that?
* What’s on your mind?
* How do you react to this information?
The benefit of debriefs is that they provide an opportunity for the presenter to gauge–or check-in–with where an audience is in its thinking or understanding. It is NOT a time to seek AGREEMENT or ensure “buy-in” (this cheapens the experience, and serves to try and push people through pre-determined hoops). An ideal mindset for presenters is, “It’s all Good!” They should ACCEPT whatever content is shared from the audience—even when it is different than hoped for, or even contrary to goal of presentation– and NOT try to “fix” (at least initially) a viewpoint shared from a learner. Better to focus on helping the other feel heard. Worth repeating: better to help the other feel HEARD.

“OK…yes. For you, this new idea feels like it might make us feel good to be doing SOMETHING—but, it may not ultimately be an effective thing to do.” This format can greatly reduce the chance a speaker creates an adversarial situation, or a power struggle with an audience member.

After getting several audience member perspectives, it can also be helpful to give a summary:

“OK…we’ve got a variety of takes on this topic. Some are excited about the proposed direction; some concerned; others waiting to decide—and still others are a little fearful we’ve been down this road before.”
(Demonstrating this, “It’s all Good” mindset actually serves to enhance the credibility of presenter, and raises safety in the room).

If the speaker has additional ideas or information that may influence the audience’s perspective/concern, a strategy that can be helpful is to provide a teaser that establishes some credibility and generates interest—and offers the audience a chance to have ownership in whether it wants to hear the additional information:

“I recently read some research that explored a very similar issue [credibility]…would it be helpful if I shared a couple of their findings with you [ownership]?”

This approach heightens the chance that the audience may be more receptive to hearing the additional information because they had ownership in choosing to hear it. By the way, if they had said “no,” it would have likely indicated they still hadn’t felt heard by the speaker!

A presentation shouldn’t be done TO an audience, it should be conducted WITH them…checking-in throughout–or at the minimum, at the end—to gauge perspective is an important component of the experience. Know what’s “different” at the end of your presentations! Be curious. Enjoy and savor the interaction…