29 November 2007

The Zen of Presentations, Part 12: Being a good audience

When scientists give talks, we usually do it in flocks. Conferences. Where you’re one of several talks in a row. A few conferences can yield huge audiences (like the recent Neuroscience meeting)... but most do not. And in those small audiences, you have a chance to be noticed. Not to the degree as when you’re up front talking, but noticed nevertheless.

If you one of several presenters, you have responsibilities when you are not talking.

Nominally, you’re supposed to stay quiet. Make sure your mobile phone is off. Maybe clap politely at the end.

But if a speaker is good, he is looking out at the audience. And there is a big difference between looking out and seeing someone who is smiling, nodding, tracking you as you move around the room... and seeing someone with their eyes closed. Scribbling a note. Or, heaven forbid, with a laptop in front of them looking at the screen.

I once went to a play, and in a reception afterwards, one of the actors said, “You were on the edge of your seat!” In a darkened theatre, with lots of audience members, I got noticed. People take it as a huge compliment when you’re actively listening.

If you don’t want to sit through a bad presentation, for goodness sake, give the speaker some encouragement to do better.

Seth Godin puts it well in a recent post, and I've talked a little about this before.


Unknown said...

Great post!

I'm in your camp: I try to give "good face" to performers when I'm in the audience.

I've been asked back stage -- and thanked -- by performers more times than I can count.

It pays to be attentive and thoughtful!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I often get annoyed at the lack of people paying attention to scientific talks, especially with the rise of laptops everywhere (which I posted about here - http://tiny.cc/q3onfw). I've had to ask people to stop discussing their own data between themselves during a talk I was giving, and I would never want to put someone else in that position. Thanks for bringing this to the attention of others.