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.