Reading Your Audience - There’s An App For That

By Bill Connor, Partner, Oratorio



Sometimes it’s hard to tell what your audience thinks of you and your material when you’re speaking in public. Unless they’re grinning from ear to ear and nodding their heads in agreement – or alternatively, yawning and burying their heads in their smartphones – it can be difficult to assess the subtle cues that tell you whether you’re winning them over or bombing. But researchers at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a fascinating new application that may change all that.

It works like this: give the speaker and the audience members Apple Watches or Samsung Gears or similar devices that can communicate with each other, and the app developed by PhD candidate Mohammed Ghassemi and his colleagues at MIT can transmit physiological information from the audience that can tell the speaker whether she’s on track or off the rails.

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“This could very quickly help the speaker identify, with something tangible, how well the speech is going, because what we’ve found in our research is that there are telltale signs of the physiological response of the individual that show whether they’re having a good time or not,” says Ghassemi. “They’ll get more fluctuations in their heart rate, their skin conductivity will increase a little. Things like this will give the speaker a sign about whether your audience cares about what you’re saying or not.”

The app also assesses vocal tones, so if an audience member asks a question or makes a comment, the speaker’s wearable can process that information as well. Ghassemi and his MIT co-researcher Tuka Alhanai originally developed the app as a tool for people with Asperger’s and autism, who often have trouble reading others’ emotions and social cues. It will be ready for commercial use in early 2018.

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Of course we’re still in the early stages of applying this technology, and not every audience member and speaker owns a wearable that can support the app. Until we reach that point, you should learn everything you can about your audience – knowledge level, likely opinions and preconceptions of your subject matter - before you start speaking. You can’t guarantee that you’ll wow every person in the room every time, but you’ll certainly do better than if you come in cold.

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To learn more about Ghassemi’s work, please go to https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/can-an-algorithm-detect-a-speakers-mood-1487871340 and https://www.linkedin.com/in/mohammad-ghassemi-401a843/

 

Not Ready For Your Close-Up

By Susan Tomai, Founder

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I recognize, of course, that body shaming is completely unacceptable - but I do have to say that close-up selfies are really starting to get on my nerves.

We’ve all seen them. Flip to Facebook and cringe as you see your friends and colleagues post incredibly unflattering photos taken with the camera about three inches away. Other than your dermatologist, there is no one who wants to examine your pores and nose hairs. Here’s a suggestion: get a selfie stick. Or perhaps you could actually ask another person to take your picture for you, just like back in the old days. Remember?

Please be kinder to yourself to your audience and stop these abominations - the camera is just not that kind.

Speak. Repeat. (Even If It Feels Strange)

Speak. Repeat. (Even If It Feels Strange)

By Bill Connor, Partner, Oratorio

With the 2018 mid-terms just around the corner (and plenty of local and special elections even before then), many first-time candidates for office are learning the hard way that stump speeches and media interviews require a lot of repetition. As I said, a lot of repetition.

To most people, this feels awkward at first. After all, in most normal social situations, people feel a little daft when they repeat themselves. They agree with the old Talking Heads lyric: “Say something once – why say it again?” But you can’t behave that way when you’re running for an elected position.

Candidates need to assume that every audience is seeing and hearing the messages for the first time. This is true for two reasons. A particular audience on a given day may literally be hearing the message for the first time. But even more importantly, even audiences who’ve heard it before need to hear it again.

Countless studies have been done which show that modern audiences have ridiculously low attention spans. Unless the information is incredibly compelling, shocking or close-to-home, people don’t really hear it, or at least they don’t retain it very well, until they hear it several times. They’ve got so many distractions in their lives that they can’t wrap their heads around everything they hear.

So our advice for candidates (and for corporate communicators and others who need to deliver key messages) is: relax and deliver that speech or interview with passion, as if it were the first time every time.

Imagine you’re U2. Every night for months, they go out and play “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” for thousands of people, as if they just wrote it the day before and their lives depended on it. Do the same and you might not become a rock star, but you just might win your race.

Shop Around

By Susan Tomai, Founder

I watch the news every day. Liberal, conservative - it doesn’t matter to me. I watch and listen to all sides, and I consider this important because so many people do the opposite. They keep the TV tuned to the channel they agree with, never considering the other side of a political argument. The problem with this approach is that can obscure the facts.

Case in point: when Kellyanne Conway told one network that former DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz didn’t stand up when President Trump mentioned a fallen Navy Seal in the State of the Union speech. Lo and behold, when I changed channels I saw the truth with my own eyes: Wasserman Schultz did stand and applaud the Navy Seal.

These days, it’s more important than ever before to shop around for your news coverage. Don’t rely on a single source of information.

Body Language Speaks Volumes

By Susan Tomai, Founder
Last week we coached a team of three executives preparing for an important joint presentation.  All of them were smart, at the top of their games and committed to the message.  Problem was, they just didn’t gel with each other - and it showed.
After the first videotaped run-through it was clear the this team was not a team. No eye contact, no encouragement.  Their body language said “I’d rather be somewhere else.” But the camera always tells the truth. And to their credit, when we played back the first run-through on video, they saw it themselves. 

After encouraging them to look at the person speaking, to smile when listening,  to relax and open up their body language, and to simply look happy to be there - well, the next on-camera run-through was transformative. They became a compelling unit and motivated their audience to action. Lesson: when presenting as a team, bury your personal issues and become a true team.