A few weeks back, we wrote about effective audience analysis and the role it plays in effective communication. More specifically, we went into detail about the first phase: before you are speaking in front of an audience. In this post, we’ll delve a little deeper into what to do during the second phase – once your presentation has begun.

A couple of simple steps will allow you to adapt to your audience on the fly, helping ensure that your message will be communicated effectively.

1. Establish your credibility. The philosopher Aristotle wrote about three different methods of persuasion – ethos, pathos and logos. The first – ethos – is an appeal to the authority or credibility of the presenter. It is how well the presenter convinces the audience that he or she is qualified to speak on the particular subject.

Credibility – considered by some to be your most important asset in business communications  – can make or break a presentation. There are several ways you can increase your credibility in front of an audience that might be unfamiliar with you or your expertise. Among them, Mary Munter wrote in her communications textbook, “Guide to Managerial Communication,” are the strategic use of:

  • Common ground: Establishing shared values or beliefs
  • Expertise: Associating yourself with or citing authoritative sources
  • Goodwill: Emphasizing audience benefits – “what’s in it for them”
  • Image: Using nonverbal and language your audience considers dynamic
  • Rank: Associating yourself with or citing a high-ranking person


2. Read your audience. Take regular assessments throughout your communication of how your audience is reacting to your message.

In “Working the Room: How to Move People to Action Through Audience-Centered Speaking,” author Nick Morgan lays out some cues applicable to western audiences (nonverbal cues are often specific to a particular culture):

Turning away, averted eyes, crossed arms Adversity Smiling, open gestures, palms open, eye contact
Squirming, minimal eye contact, shoulders slumped Disengagement Change your pace, involve audience or take a break
Shaking head, sighing, huffing, eye rolling Opposition Engage audience
Leaning forward in chairs, moving closer Commitment Confirm commitment and move on to the next topic

What other tools and tactics do you use to adapt to your audience during a speech?