What do you do when you’re giving a talk or a presentation, and your eyes fall on someone whose expression seems to say, “This is just the worst. Why am I here?”
This has happened to me a few times, most recently two weeks ago. The effect was exacerbated by the fact that the group was small, and the woman with the “prove to me this isn’t a waste of time” face was in the front row, about eight feet from me.
Fortunately, one of my earliest jobs was taking tours of Shakespeare plays to middle and high schools in New York City. I was the director, so I would sit in the audience to watch the performances. The faces on these kids as our productions of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth started were some of the most forbidding I’ve ever seen. Talk about expressions that say “I know this is going to be stupid!”
But in every case, the kids’ faces belied the experience they were having. They understood and enjoyed the plays, and they had great questions for the actors afterwards. That experience taught me that what you see on an audience member’s face is, nearly always, not about you.
When you happen across one of those expressions, compartmentalize it. Remind yourself that anything could be going on with that person—maybe they have a terrible upset stomach, or they got an email that’s bothering them, or maybe their face just looks like that!
At any rate, it’s not about you, and even if it were, don’t change what you’re doing. Keep going, and find a friendlier face to look at.