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How To Embrace Audience Applause

How to Embrace Audience Applause

Yes! Those Claps Are For You

That glorious moment has arrived! You have finished your speech. Oh, the relief of making it through without a major stuff up. Of course, there was that moment when you stumbled and words evaporated into a curious blankness. Hopefully your face did not betray your bewilderment… Though, you thought you glimpsed a confused look on the face of a lady in the front row. Never mind! You kept calm and carried on as they say and your listeners rewarded your words, energy and effort with applause.

By “applause”, I mean, “acknowledgement” in its many forms. Depending upon your situation, it could be nods, smiles, finger twinkling, back slapping or, hand clapping.

Electric Stillness

Now there is this moment of electric stillness, when your last words hang in the silence. Most of us sensitive speakers and listeners, understand that this so called, ’glorious moment’, is a moment of reckoning.

How will you and your words be received? You thought you did ok, maybe better than ok. But what will other people, important people, think?

Will someone blast you a foghorn of fail, will you be carried triumphant on audience shoulders or simply, sink without fuss into a beige morass as if you had never spoken at all?

All these things can happen. Audiences are fickle things. As are speakers.

In that moment of speech ending, you will now be judged.

Audience Rejection Theory

I have a theory about why so many people end their spoken word presentations poorly.

What I see is: 90% of the talk is great stuff, rah, rah, rah. The final 10% leaves much to be desired. It’s often rushed through so the speaker can scurry back to their chair and quietly reabsorb into the group matrix.

I think fear stops us from accepting applause and acknowledgement. Ever dismissed a compliment and seen the hurt look on your friend’s face? Not taking your applause, is just like that. A slap in the face to someone who wants to give you a gift. 

Have you ever witnessed someone finish speaking, put their head down, avoid eye contact, turn their back and ignore the audience? It’s a sad moment. Enthusiastic clapping slows to a confused splutter. 

There are social norms of behaviour and violating them is uncomfortable. An ungracious and poorly planned ending, stains the impact of a powerful presentation. It’s almost as if the speaker is saying, “I’m going to reject you, before you reject me.”

Some of my clients are terrified of seeing rejection, judgement, pity or scorn in the eyes of others. While understandable, it’s a shame because they also miss seeing admiration, delight, acceptance and understanding.

Of course, no matter how many times you tell them this, they don’t believe it until they’ve experienced it for themselves. The trick is encouraging them to take the risk to look up, hold eye contact and not run away.

How to Embrace Audience Applause

If applause was chocolate, we’d probably stand there with our hands out, wanting more! Generally, applause satisfies the hunger for acknowledgement, rather than the sweet tooth.

This is the three-step process I offer clients who are ‘applause-challenged’:

  1. Anticipate you will receive some sort of positive acknowledgement for your words. When you practise, mentally and physically, include standing or sitting still and silently after your final words, looking at people in the eyes. Then smile and nod graciously in return. It takes seconds but adds years in positive impact.
  2. Understand that public speaking is a two-way relationship. You have just ‘given’ to your audience. Now it’s your turn to ‘receive’. Give them respect in return by listening to their acknowledgement.
  3. Finally, apply this practical sequence:
  • When you are close to finishing, slow your pace and tell your audience you are close to concluding. This sounds like: “When I finish…”, “Just wrapping up…” This cues listeners to expect your ending.
  • When you have ended, stop and take a slow, relaxed breath. Look around, lift your face and smile directly at your audience. Let your hands fall open to your sides. And stay where you are.
  • When the audience has finished applauding, nod, smile or thank them briefly. Then leave, head high, confident walk, no slumping! People are still watching until you exit the speaking space and return to your chair.

Last impressions Last

If the first 90% of your talk, proposal, paper, recommendations, report or speech was fantastic, the last 10% needs to be equally fantastic.

People remember first and last impressions. Memories get fuzzy in the middle. Holding your head high when you finish, even if you were a bit wobbly in the middle, will earn you brownie points for ‘good behaviour’.

To embrace audience applause with courage, confidence and humility is compellingly simple and attractive. You have the power and control to make your last impression last, in a good way.

Yes! Those claps are for you!

(Here’s a link to one of my funny old home videos explaining a little more about the art of ending well and how to embrace audience applause. I’m a bit stiff at first, it takes me a while to warm up, as you do. )

© 2021, Geraldine Barkworth, Australian Public Speaking Coach. The views contained within this article are entirely those of the author. You may reproduce this article if kept in entirety.