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How to Be a Good Audience

It's very disrespectful and distracting,' wrote Julie, 'when others talk and laugh at a presentation, come in late and leave without attempting to be unobtrusive, interrupt
with unrelated comments, etc. Can you address how to handle people who are acting this way at a workshop you're attending?

"Recently at a staff meeting, several very young staff people joked, whispered and laughed among themselves during a short presentation given by a new intern. She was so upset she was in tears later. This hasn't been addressed by management, but some professional conduct tips would be great.

"I have heard this is rampant at schools and on campuses. How do you get the message of respect across?'

Poor behavior during a presentation keeps anyone from learning anything. Public speaking is not really for amateurs, and in situations like this, which are almost 'learning labs' it's reprehensible to just throw a novice to the wolves-- and today's multicultural audience can be 'the wolves,' because there is no longer an accepted standard of behavior we can rely on. An accomplished speaker knows how to show (if not declare) what the protocol is in this place, at this time, and with this person.

Until the speaker can learn how to be one the leader should pass around audience protocol at a staff meeting, or before a talk, and then be there to introduce the newbie speaker in a way that lends her authority.

She can also announce there will be a test afterwards. People who act like children shouldn't fuss at being treat like children.


1. Arrive on time and take your seat.

Sit still with both feet planted on the floor or legs crossed. Keep your hands below your shoulders, Minimize any movement; it's discourteous to others.

2. Do not get up and move around during the talk unless told to do so. Remain seated until the presentation is over.

If you must leave to go to the restroom, do not re-enter the room until there is a break, or take a seat quietly at the back of the room.

3. Do not assume the presentation is 'interactive.'

While this is becoming the norm 'I think out of self-defense 'until the speaker announces an exercise or activity, or asks questions or asks for responses or audience participation, or asks you to interact with your neighbor, remain silent and attentive.

4. Do not bring food, drink, smoking materials or drugs, gum, candy, other work, books, cell phones, radios or palmtops, small children, drunk in-laws, or live animals into the presentation room with you, or anything that lights up, dings, whistles, rings, spins, smells, emits something, is a fire hazard, or needs to be fed.

You are there to listen to the speaker.

5. Be an attentive listener.

6. Do not talk or whisper during the presentation.

But stay with the speaker. If something's funny, laugh. If the speaker asks for questions, have one. If something great happens, applaud. If you enjoyed the presentation, applaud at the end.

7. Dress appropriately and respectfully.

All professional audiences know to dress comfortably (you don't want your belt jackknifing into your waist the whole time), and to wear layers so you don't get too hot or too cold, and 'act out' because you're miserable. Few rooms are ventilated to any two people's satisfaction.

Appropriately - ? When in doubt, wear nice slacks and a shirt, skirt or dress. Avoid jeans, a tux, don't wear a cocktail dress, and save your cleavage, hairy chest and other sexual displays for another scenario.

8. Do not do anything that distracts either the speaker or the audience.

This would include but is not limited to: talking, whispering, wearing strong cologne, coughing, joking, shuffling your feet, rustling papers, tapping your pencil, humming, heckling, allowing your cell phone to ring (or, God forbid, talking on it), The presentation is not about YOU. If you have an uncontrollable need to attract attention to yourself, please get some coaching on Emotional Intelligence and give us all a break.

9. Keep your hands and feet to yourself.

And just like in grade school, if you tend to 'get in trouble' when you're with Dougie, don't sit beside Dougie.

10. Come prepared to make your contribution as "the audience."

It's an active role, not passive. It means arriving alert (skip the double cheeseburger for lunch); having a positive attitude' and doing what you can to make this possible for yourself, the speaker, and others in the audience.

About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, Emotional Intelligence Coach, I help people become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of "Nonverbal Communication."

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