[This is a companion to an earlier post, “When You’re the Speaker.”]
Usually, when I sit in the audience and listen to a presentation, there’s a lot going on among audience members. This week was an exception. On Wednesday, I attended the CSU Collegiate Challenge (think mini Shark Tank). The speakers had a nice stage setup; this helps the audience as much as it helps the speaker. It was large and well-lit, colorful and interesting. The microphones worked, and so did the slide advancing clicker (shocking, I know). Such features help engage the audience.
The audience was attentive and respectful. I didn’t hear one cell phone ring. There was minimal side-chatter. People coming and going did so quietly. The pitch presentations were interesting. There was excitement in the air because this was a big moment for those on stage. There were cash prizes and awards to win, which would advance winning entrepreneurs toward investment opportunities.
Unfortunately, it’s not always like this. We’re just so distractible. It’s no secret that speakers are competing with the handheld internet from the stage. Constantly.
As audience members, we ought to aim higher. Public speaking is relational by nature – it cannot exist without an audience. A few simple guidelines:
- Practice the Golden Rule. Give the speaker the attention you’d want if you were on the stage. Keep phones silent or off. Enter and exit on time and quietly. If you’re not interested or you become distracted, re-focus. Learn one new tip or piece of information. Consider how you can apply it to your own life, business, or situation. Write it down.
- Participate non-verbally. From the simple head nod to the smile or chuckle, non-verbals are a great help to speakers. Eye contact goes two ways; we must give it the speakers. Exhibit alertness with good posture in your seat. Especially if the speaker is struggling, these small pieces can make a big difference.
- Ask meaningful feedback. If Q & A is part of the session, make it useful. Formulate questions that allows the speaker to give a reasonable answer in a short amount of time. Instead of, “What do you think high school girls need most these days before they go to college?”, be specific: “Your leadership program for high schoolers covers a lot of important topics. What’s the 1 thing participants have said is the most valuable part of their experience?”
But don’t be “that guy.” The one who throws the speaker a curve ball just to be difficult. I saw this unfold recently, and it wasn’t pretty. The presentation was finished, and it was polished. Someone spoke up – after several supportive comments had been made – and brought in the negativity. You could practically hear the proverbial sigh from the rest of us. But the speaker handled it beautifully. When you can respond respectfully to a heckler and keep your cool – you gain valuable credibility.
Every time we’re in an audience, we should think of it as a free lecture. What will we learn today? Above all, remember that you’re not passive, unimportant, or irrelevant just because you’re not in the spotlight. By no means. You are active and vital to the conversation; you are being relied upon by the presenter. Your satisfaction with their message? It’s the speaker’s only aim.
Cindy Skalicky is a passionate public speaking coach and the owner of On Point Communications, LLC. She coaches speakers on storytelling techniques, speech writing, delivery, and overall content development. Master the Message. Learn more at www.onpoint-communications or Contact Cindy at: firstname.lastname@example.org