We expect a lot of speakers and presenters. We want them to be witty, wise, and gnomic. We want them to give us insights we’ve never had before. We want them to change the world. We expect a lot.
But what about the audiences these speakers work so hard to please? Do we have the right to expect anything of them?
I think the answer is yes, and I think there are 3 ways in particular that audiences fall down.
“Just Give Me the Highlights.”
I've all too often seen (especially) executives – but also conference organizers – 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 the more tasks you undertake simultaneously, the slower and more inattentively you do them. Put away that iPhone or iPad or Android phone or 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.
I think that audiences owe speakers the courtesy of paying attention politely for as long as the speakers hold their attention. After that, audiences should still be polite. What do you think?