Those of us in the public speaking world spend a lot of time advising the speakers, in order to help everyone get the most out of the presentation experience.  But what of the audiences?  Do we have the right to expect anything of them?

Three pernicious trends that audiences have fallen victim to lately are worth considering in this light.

Just Give Me the Highlights.  I’ve all too often seen executives ask hapless presenters, "We’re running out of time; can you just give us the highlights?"  The busy executives use this as a deliberate technique to save them time and see how the presenters respond under pressure.  But this technique pushes the presenters into sloppy speaking as they rush to get as much as possible in the time left.  Besides that, it’s rude.  The result is imprecision, confusion, omissions, bad feeling and more time wasted in the long run.  It will take 30 emails at least to straighten out the confusion created by one rushed presentation, you can be sure. 

I’ll Multitask While You Talk.  If we’re going to go to all the trouble, expense, and time to get together, you should give the speakers your undivided attention.  Multitasking is for low-involvement, relatively unimportant tasks.  All the studies show that you the more tasks you undertake simultaneously, the slower and more inattentively you do them.  Put away that Blackberry!  Pay attention if you’ve decided to be there in the first place. 

I’ll Come Early and Leave Late.  Both speakers and audiences owe each other the courtesy of showing up on time, starting on time, and ending on time.  Anything less is rude and disrespectful to those who do have watches.  That said, the speakers and conference designers must create moments, speeches, and conferences worth attending all the way through.  All too often, conference planners just fill in the time slots in the way they always have.  A conference should tell a coherent story, without filler, from start to finish.  It’s not a series of time slots. You owe it to the audience to create something memorable.  And the audience owes it to you to show up on time and stay to the end. 

Practice good time management.  End these pernicious trends now.   

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