What’s On Your Mind?

By Heather Baldwin

Wouldn’t it be great if you could read minds? You’d know what your spouse really thinks about your new haircut, when to ask the boss for a raise and exactly what the audience is thinking during your presentation. While you’re on your own with the spouse and the boss, Patti Wood, a speaker, trainer and one of the nation’s top body language experts (www.pattiwood.net), says reading the minds of your audience members is simply a matter of learning a few body language signals. Here, says Wood, are five common emotions audiences experience during presentations and their corresponding body language.

Confusion. When audience members are confused, they will move in random ways, says Wood. Look for confused people to pick things up and put them down, shuffle their feet and shift in their seats. Their eyes might blink open and closed, as if hoping to see things more clearly. Also look for asymmetry: people tilting their heads to one side, leaning to one side or showing an expression on one side of their faces. People who want to ask a question, but aren’t sure it’s safe to do so, may cover their mouth with their hand.

Boredom. Bored audience members will show signs they have shut down. They may turn away from you or slump in their chairs. They may lean backward and lazily rest their arms around the back of their chair. You can read boredom by looking for people who have their head to the side or down, who break eye contact or fix their eyes into space, or who generally have a vacant look.

Impatience and frustration. If audience members have moved from boredom to irritation, they’ll show signs of wanting to move on, such as reading a newspaper, looking at their watch or checking their PDA. Extroverted types may symbolically run from the room by tapping their feet, jiggling their knees or crossing their feet and moving the dangling foot quickly up and down.

Doubt. Suspicious people show discomfort. Look for furrowed brows, squinting eyes, heads tilted or lips tightened “as if to stop a disparaging comment,” says Wood. “If the audience does not believe you, you’ll see people grimacing and exhaling through clenched teeth, shaking their heads or masking their displeasure with a tight smile.”

Interested and excited. Like a balloon that’s just been inflated, excited audience members may suddenly shift upwards or take a deep breath and shift their weight forward. Audience members also may signal their interest by smiling, tilting their head and leaning forward. “They are up for what you are saying, so their overall posture is up and attentive as well,” Wood explains.