Adapting to Your Audience During Breaks

If you are delivering a long presentation that includes a break or you are the next speaker and a break precedes your presentation, spend time among the people who will be or who are in your audience by listening to people during breaks.

For example, in using a birthday-matching exercise, I have 25 people from the audience give their birthdays looking for a match—two people having the same birthday. As I listened to each one recently, I was so busy concentrating on making sure I didn’t leave anyone out that I did not recognize the obvious: one of the participants gave the month and day of our seminar. In other words, that day was his birthday and I did not recognize it!

At the break, I overheard one of the audience members mention that fact. I asked who that person was and he pointed out that individual to me. As soon as we came back from the break, I began by asking if anyone had a birthday besides the one in our earlier exercise. When no one raised his or her hand, I asked the person for his name and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to him. This made up for my missing this fact earlier, and the group acting in unison created a positive audience-speaker relationship.

I have not done this regularly in the past. Part of the reason is that if I have been speaking, people are using the break to ask me questions and I don’t have the opportunity to mix and mingle near the snack and drink tables.

But after this experience I will work harder to gain feedback during the break. This was especially important in this situation since part of the following section of content was improving listening skills.  (Someone might have said, “Steve, I know someone who does seminars on improving listening—just in case you’re interested!”)

You can adapt to the audience before the presentation begins by talking to people from the organization. You can go online to learn about the group and even search for key people in the organization on the Internet. But don’t forget to adapt during your presentation as well. Mixing and mingling during break time can be invaluable to the rest of your presentation.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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