In a sales call, or any meeting for that matter, it’s important to recognize that those in attendance may all have different reasons for being there. Participants may be willing participants, or unwilling attendees at the behest of a boss or spouse. How do you tell? Read the room.

Nonverbal communication cues are a big help when reading a room to identify who is interested, who is a decision maker or influencer, and who is there only because they have to be. Public speakers sometimes reference audience members as being volunteers (they want to be there), vacationers (they want to be anywhere that gets them out of their day-to-day job), and hostages (they were told they have to be there).

The volunteers will generally sit upright, lean forward and offer additional non-verbal cues like nodding to show they agree or understand. Vacationers are more likely to lean back, appear uninterested or fidget. Hostages will appear uncomfortable – they may have their arms crossed, or take copious notes, in case they are asked about the meeting later. Note, people in all three scenarios may have decision-making abilities or be influencers, so don’t ignore someone based on their level of interest.

If you are having trouble reading someone in the room or want to draw them into the conversation, a good fallback is to ask a direct question of the person, or of everyone in the room individually. For example, instead of asking a general, “Does anyone have questions about what we’ve presented so far?”, ask each person, but add wording about concerns for anyone you’re having difficulty reading… “Mike, do you have any questions?”  “Susie, how about you – any questions or concerns?”

Finally, everyone in the room deserves your respect, even if they don’t appear to be paying attention. We never know what happened right before the meeting or appointment started, so don’t assume someone who appears uninterested doesn’t have a say in the decision or topic being discussed. Respectfully asking questions and looking for opportunities to engage can help refine your initial read, and perhaps lead to a more successful outcome.