Five Ways To Be A Great Audience Member
In my work with public speakers, I’ve learned how important it is for me to serve as a receptive audience for them.
Although I usually try to maintain an enthusiastic expression when I watch speakers deliver a practice speech, my less-than-enthusiastic thoughts and feelings occasionally become clear to the presenter—even when I’m trying to mask them.
“You looked like you were getting bored,” the speaker might say. “I’m sorry you saw that,” I’ll reply, “I’m usually better about maintaining a poker face. But you’re right that the presentation started to drag a bit in the middle, so let’s talk about ways to keep the energy up during that section.”
Looking out into a sea of blank expressions, empty stares, or skeptical faces can be devastating for a speaker, particularly one who lacks confidence or experience.
There’s an argument to be made that it’s incumbent upon speakers to grab and maintain the attention of their audiences. That may be true—but audience members who sympathize with the plight of a speaker who’s struggling can improve the experience for the speaker and the rest of the audience. (Plus, it’s just the decent thing to do.)
Many speakers tell me that the first few minutes of a presentation are the most critical for them to feel like they’re succeeding—so having a few friendly faces looking back at them can be all the encouragement they need to hit their stride and deliver a winning presentation.
Here are five ways to be a supportive audience member:
1. Listen. Even if the speaker is delivering his or her content badly, there may be an underlying message worth hearing.
2. Exhibit supportive body language. That means maintaining eye contact, smiling when appropriate, and nodding to indicate understanding.
3. Ask questions. If the speaker asks for participation and no one else is jumping in, try to help them by asking a question. This can be particularly useful for a speaker who is failing to deliver their content in a compelling manner—the right question can draw out a more interesting response (e.g. “You mentioned earlier that the new trucking route would save customers money and time. Can you provide me with an example so I can better picture how that would work?”).
4. Put away your smartphone. Seeing audience members who are clearly checked out is distracting at the least and often downright demoralizing.
5. Offer gentle feedback after the presentation. You can help the speaker improve by offering encouraging feedback, such as: “It really resonated with me when you shared the story about the customer who canceled our service. If you present on this topic again, you might want to spend even more time on that story, because you had my attention during that whole section of your talk.”
What would you add to this list? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.