Firstly, then, share your listeners’ interests. You will arouse interest and motivation if you make it clear from the outset that you have considered their needs. Thus a researcher might start a paper by mentioning the way his work provides promising analogies to the audience’s own work; a manager may open by mentioning the common need for the company’s success; a lecturer might mention examinations in his introduction. It is possible to effect the arousal of listeners by talking about things which closely concern them. In this way the speaker can build on the motivation they already possess. One way of doing this is to present trailers, in the cinema tradition, for the points which are to come, brief extracts of the information and ideas you are going to present. The best way is to spend time showing how your ideas relate to the problems, and interests, of your listeners, before launching into your own interests.
The second tactic which affects the acquisition of information, is the degree of security the audience feel in their speaker. All educationalists know that in learning, emotional stability is almost as important as intelligence. A calm and emotionally secure person will think more clearly than a highly intelligent, but emotionally disturbed person. The speaker should consciously try to calm and reassure the audience. Provide a secure atmosphere, and clearly defined physical constraints, such as the use of space, and good timing, to enable them to concentrate. If the audience feel at ease, and if they feel confident that the speaker knows his job as well as his subject, and will stop on time, they will find it refreshingly easy to listen to the presentation. If they are cramped, suspicious, anxious, and unsettled, they will day-dream more, and listen less. Providing the right emotional conditions is an important factor in effective speaking.
The third tactic which we should consider is that sitting still and listening affects the natural levels of arousal. One of the disadvantages of the spoken presentation is that it stifles two major needs of the audience, those for self-expression, and those for social interaction. They are expected to be silent and listen, and their ability to interact with others is savagely curtailed. The audience’s natural arousal is reduced by these repressions, and extra stimulation must be provided to compensate for this. Careful consideration of the way the audience’s receptivity to the message is affected by natural psychological mechanisms will be rewarded by an attentive audience.
Finally, the forth tactic, there is much evidence that the speaker’s own communicated attitude and psychological state will affect the audience’s reception of his message.
Mastin instructed lecturers to teach one topic with an ‘indifferent’ attitude and another the following week ‘enthusiastically’…Nineteen out of twenty classes did better on multiple-choice tests after the ‘enthusiastic’ lesson…In a similar experiment Coats and Smidchens found that 36% of the variance in tests of audience recall were attributable to the dynamism’ of the speaker.
The conclusion from this research is that an enthusiastic and energetic presentation is more effective than a dull and soporific one. If you are enthusiastic yourself about the subject, it will be reflected in the audience’s echoing enthusiasm.
There are a variety of ways, then, in which we can vary the levels of receptivity in an audience. Whereas no one technique for coping with this is a panacea, a good understanding of the natural operation of the listener’s mind is an enormous help in adjusting the presentation so it is as effective as possible. Of course, none of this is possible if you have not thought about the audience. Nor is it possible unless you are sensitive to the way your presentation is affecting the audience. Before dealing with feedback from the audience, though, let me explore one more component of the delicate equation between speaker and audience, the way the speaker feels about his listeners, and the way they are likely to feel about him.