They See You: How To Be a Good Audience Member
When I started speaking in front of audiences, I discovered a startling truth: speakers can actually see the attendees. They see their faces, expressions, and body language. Up to that point, I thought I was invisible when I sat in the audience. I never thought about how to be a good audience member, really.
Why is this important for you as a leader? Let me explain.
Last year I spoke to a great audience of about 200 people at an annual event for a medical society. And when a speaker says “great audience,” they mean they clapped, smiled, and asked questions. Great audiences look you in the eye, cry when you say something emotional, and laugh at your jokes. They volunteer when you ask for volunteers and simply make you feel like a rock star.
And while it is our responsibility when we speak not to induce coma-like boredom, it is also important for a kind and respectful audience to reciprocate. Speaking and listening is a two-way street. A live and alive audience will make a good speaker even better.
So as I spoke with all the gusto I could muster to this great audience, one lady stood out. I can still see her smile. She was sitting midway in the auditorium, slightly to the right. She was leaning forward. The entire time, she had the most pleasant demeanor as if to say, “What you are saying is beautiful.” I appreciated her so much. Because when you are on that stage, you are alone. You prepared for hours, weeks, or even months for this time. You have thought, rehearsed, worried, and prayed to make an impact. And when you are there speaking into that crowd, you are grasping for something, anything to tell you, “Good job, keep going! You are doing great!”
So now, when I am in the audience, I am more conscious to do what this lady did for me that day. I want to let the speaker know, regardless of their speaking skills, that I appreciate them. I appreciate the courage to stand up and be vulnerable. I appreciate the preparation they did. I appreciate the years of dedication they have invested to learn what they are sharing with us.
This is especially true when we as leaders are listening to one of our team members speak to our team. It could be their first time speaking. We must demonstrate good listening skills toward the speaker, as well as the team. This comes from the value of generosity. Giving to a speaker whether we are in a small group or a large auditorium is simply the right thing to do.
Here are a few quick guidelines on how to be a good audience member. As you read the specific points below, imagine that you are part of a 10 person audience, although one should practice these courtesies even in a huge arena of 10,000 people.
Don’t look bored. Don’t just stare.
Make a smile your default facial feature. Don’t look sad, upset, angry, or surprised. Don’t have a flat, expressionless, poker face. Come to life. Come back to earth. Be with us. Don’t look angry. Don’t stare as if you are mad about being there (even if you are). Don’t look despondent like your dog just died (even if it did).
Be aware of your facial features. Remember, they see you.
Look the speaker in the eye. When he or she makes a good point, even if it’s semi-good, nod and affirm. Basically you want to communicate to them ,“Good job, friend. Keep going.”
Be affirming and encouraging. Remember, they see you.
Face them with an open and engaged body posture.
If you study body language, one of the first rules they teach you is to be aware of having an open body posture when you want to connect with people. What this means is that anything that covers your body communicates that you are being guarded. This can include crossed arms, crossed legs, holding a folder that covers part of your body, or not facing someone.
You can express an open posture by possibly leaning forward, as if to communicate that you cannot wait for the next word that is to be uttered. By the way this should also be practiced in one-on-one meetings. I recently mentioned this to my team, and was vigorously reminded that sometimes women have to cross their legs if they are wearing skirts, to which I quietly agreed. So if you are wearing a skirt or if you are a Scotsman in a kilt, then by all means cross your legs.
Communicate with your body language that you welcome them. Remember, they see you.
When someone is trying to teach me something, I want to communicate to them that I am ready to learn. Believe me, I know, I was in school for 30 years. Teachers like to know that the student is attentive, that they care, and that they want to learn. So as an attentive student, open your notebook and take a few notes. There is always something to learn if you will listen and observe closely enough. And if the notes aren’t anything you wish to keep, then you can always discard them later.
Encourage the teacher by taking notes. Remember, they see you.
Thank them and introduce yourself at the end.
At the end it is imperative that you don’t bolt out of there thanking God it is all over. Be kind and courteous. All speakers want to hear from the audience. They are aching to hear that they made an impact. So go up to them, introduce yourself if you don’t know them. And tell them that you appreciated them speaking. And give them the ways that you thought their talk was impactful. Reserve any negative or “constructive” remarks. This is not the time for that.
Show the speaker gratitude by introducing yourself and thanking them. Remember, they see you.
I wish you excellence in your roles as speakers and listeners. Let’s demonstrate excellence in both areas. And the next time you are in an audience, remember: they see you. If you found this article to be helpful, I invite you to it.
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