Friday, August 20, 2010

Being a Good Session Attendee

I sent in a presentation in March in response to a call for presenters for a large industry conference taking place in October.  When it's March, October is a really really long time away. Much to my surprise they accepted my proposal and I was deemed a 'presenter'. Now all of a sudden!, I only have 3 weeks to complete my presentation and I have no idea where to start. And, not only do I have to figure out what in the world to say to sound like I match that well written bio for an hour and 15 minutes, I also have to determine just how it is that I plan to even resemble the fresh face and thinner me in that darn pic! I have no idea what shoes to wear either.  Don't mock, these are serious considerations when trying to look smart, competent, THINNER, and sober in front of your peers for over an hour.

I like to teach classes and seminars but speaking at industry functions is a struggle for me. Sometimes you get a tough crowd. Other self-proclaimed experts make me nervous as do those who seem to be too eagerly lapping up what I'm saying. It has made me a much better listener and attendee to other people's presentations though. So in the hopes that my efforts to be good to my fellow presenters will bring me good listeners in October, I am sharing  three ways I think attendees can help a speaker during a presentation and I'm praying my audience is full of these types in October.

Smile at the Presenter and Look Interested
If I'm feeling a bit unsure of my audience when I'm presenting I always choose a friendly face in the crowd to talk to until I'm back in the groove. I now try to be that friendly face while attending seminars and conferences. I try not to spend too much time staring at the list I may be making or the doodles I'm drawing even if I have no interest in the speaker at all. Surveying  your audience and finding everyone looking down, writing (when you know you haven't just said something brilliant), and talking to the person beside them is just demoralizing for a speaker. Try to appear attentive and not unhappy.

Ask Questions or Give Examples if Asked
Most presenters will ask questions at various points during a presentation. This helps them engage the audience and make sure that they're talking about what the attendees want to hear. As a speaker it is especially difficult to ask for anyone to share an example of what you're describing or to ask a question and to have absolutely no audience feedback.  Try to step up and help your presenter out if no one else is interacting with them, it really makes a difference. Usually once the first audience member has participated, others will follow.

Attend The Right Sessions
Sounds simple but sometimes attendees see the title of a presentation but don't read the description or the objectives. Then they're bored or give the speaker a bad grade on the surveys. I believe in helping speakers by being honest about their presentations but don't blame them if you went to an entry level presentation and were bored. Which leads me to...

Fill Out the Survey Form 
Each event I have participated in as a presenter has provided survey forms to the attendees following my presentation. They are always less than 10 questions and can be completed in a few minutes.  Please fill them out and be constructive if you need to criticize. Honing the speaker craft is a tricky undertaking and having useful feedback is extremely valuable.

If You're Bored to Death
If you're in a session and you think that it's the worst thing you've ever heard at least try to get one good nugget from it. As my grandmother said,  "Even a broken clock is right twice a day".  You can learn something from everyone. If a speaker seems to be drifting from the topic, politely ask a question to get them back on. Make it a point to try to learn if you're there already right?

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