Guidelines for Audiences
There are many guidelines for people who make presentations but very few for audience members. These tips are offered on behalf of speakers everywhere.
- Do your job. You are an audience member, not a human being who happens to be in the room. This means you have responsibilities that go beyond merely breathing, facing in the right direction, and keeping your feet off of the chair in front of you. Your ability and willingness to fulfill those responsibilities will contribute enormously to the success of the presentation. Your job responsibilities are listening, contributing when appropriate, being courteous and cooperative, exhibiting a positive attitude, being supportive of the speaker's efforts (not necessarily of what the speaker says), and learning.
- Show up on time. When a meeting is scheduled for 10:00, that does not mean that you should start thinking about attending at 9:59. It also doesn't imply that 10:05 or 10:15 will be fine or that you should show up at 10:00 and then fumble around for ten minutes in the back of the room getting coffee and searching for a bearclaw. It especially does not allow waving at friends or muttering jive excuses while meandering your way to a seat in the front row. It means that at 10:00, you are seated and prepared to listen. If being tardy is unavoidable - and that happens to the best of us - quietly join the audience.
- If you are in danger of dozing off, don't risk becoming a side-show. In a world of crazy schedules and time changes, it's entirely possible that you were up all night or are still operating on Rangoon time. If so, find a chair - get one from another room if need be - in the back of the room. If you can't stay awake, ask a colleague to take notes in your absence so you can get your rest elsewhere. This isn't just out of consideration for the speaker. Do you think your career will be helped if you're snoring and drooling in the front row?
- If you can't listen, fake it. If you are unable to listen, then pretend to do so. Adopt the same quasi-attentive expression that your children affect when you are telling them stories about the good old days. There is a trick to this: When you pretend to listen, the odds are great that you will actually start to listen.
- Be professional. Whispering and passing notes went out in, what, the fifth grade? Remember, part of your job is to send good vibrations to the speaker.
- Don't be biased from the start. Sure, the topic may not be the greatest, but search for interesting aspects. If you can't find any, you're probably not trying hard enough. Be particularly careful not to assume that you already know all you need to know about the subject. If you were ordered to attend, please remember that the speaker didn't issue that order.
- Avoid distractions. Listen for the main idea, not for all of the details. Assume that you are going to have to put the speaker's message in plain language. What would you say?
- Take notes. The part that you think is unforgettable is forgettable. Trust me on this.
- Play ball. There are some workshop exercises that you may not like. (Role-playing is usually high on my list.) If you are going to be in the workshop, however, play along. By the end of the class, you may see the method in the madness. Besides that, what works for some students won't work for others. Look for the stuff that works for you.
- Be polite. You can disagree with a speaker and still be courteous. Seek to clarify the diffferences rather than to prove you are right. While doing so, you may find that you and the speaker are largely in agreement. If you have a question that is too long or specialized, ask it over the break or after the class.