When you tell a story, how do you analyze your audience? Do you read their posture? Or maybe their facial expressions?

gestures

Sharing a story virtually makes it difficult to read people, doesn’t it? Sometime, you hear the sound of dishes clanking or irrelevant conversations when somebody forgets to unmute themselves. Other than that, you neither see nor hear the audience. The little green light is your only audience. You have little idea how your story is received while you’re telling it. I surely felt weird when I started telling stories virtually, but be that as it may, I got used to it eventually.

A few months ago, I finally got back on an in-person stage. The venue was a charming courtyard. I was psyched about sharing the same space with my audience again. Something was different, though. What was it? It took me a while to realize it was the plexiglass speaker’s booth they’d put on the stage as a safety measure. As an audience member, I was fine with it because the plexiglass was transparent and, with speakers, the sound was fine. But when I stood behind the plexiglass, my perspective was different. The divider prevented me from feeling the audience. I felt like being a caged animal. I couldn’t tell whether they liked my story or not until the show was over. I still enjoyed the experience, but the joy wasn’t the same as what I had expected.

So last month, I grabbed an opportunity for an in-person show. Yep, it was a “revenge” show to fully feel my audience. The venue was a small art gallery, which should have been perfect to see audience reaction. But again, something was different. Because everybody was sitting spread out at the back of the room, I couldn’t hear their laughter well. On top of that, I couldn’t read their facial expression because of their masks. It made me flinch and freeze for seconds. Then, I remembered…

Years ago, while I was telling a story, I noticed somebody with a grumpy attitude. Because he was right there…sitting in the middle of the first row, I couldn’t ignore him. While everybody was cracking up, he kept his face straight and his arms crossed. Obviously, he wasn’t enjoying my story. But what could I do? We can’t entertain everybody, can we? Then, after the show, “Yo! You!” he approached me. He was going to throw a wet blanket, I thought. Instead, with a straight face, he said, “You were funny. I’ll be back.”

We cannot know everybody’s state of mind by reading their facial expressions or body gestures. In fact, once in the past I made a presenter get startled and freeze up. I don’t know what kind of face I was making at the time. I was just enjoying the topic and fascinated by her presentation.

Don’t overanalyze your audience. Their reactions may not reflect their feelings or your story.

grumpy man