Be a good audience member, not just a good speaker

I’m a speaker coach. This means I mostly focus on what you do that helps you connect with, and communicate to, an audience. But talks are about sharing ideas, and your role in the audience is as important as the work of the speaker.

The speaker is there for you

Picture an auditorium. Every audience member is seated five minutes before the event starts. Phones are off, each person settled comfortably into their seats, and they watch the stage in anticipation. An esteemed speaker enters from stage left – they see an interested audience. The speaker feels the attentive energy of their listeners.

Your presence at an event matters.

Compare to this more common scenario: a large room in a corporate office, where a lunch and learn is about to start. Two colleagues are speaking for the first time about an important project they have been working hard on. Three quarters of attendees are seated by 12pm, lunches in lap. The speakers notice three key people are yet to arrive so they start late.

Your energy fuels the speakers to give a better talk

Our two speakers open with a nerdy joke (they’ve never spoken publicly before) and warm into what turns out to be a captivating story. Their colleagues realise the topic is important, and pertinent. They are fueled by their audience’s energy.

When you listen, the idea is heard.

Then, someone walks in. They enter quietly, sit in the back corner – and check email.

Attention shifts from the speakers, to the disruption. This means that the careful holding space speakers have cultivated with their opening, is lost and the audience isn’t quite listening.

The person who came late doesn’t even realise.

When you take action, that idea grows

We communicate to share ideas. We give talks because we want someone to do something – and we attend talks because we want to learn. Checking email during a presentation seems quiet, but everyone feels it, and you obviously can’t fully absorb what the speaker is saying. This means you are unlikely to do anything differently in your work or life as a result – which is the whole reason you are there.

Next time you attend an event, take a moment to consider the time your speaker has invested in preparing this talk, for you. Notice the time you are giving up to be there. And imagine how your listening, together with the speaker’s speaking, allows this wonderful idea to grow.

Rachael West is a strategic speaker coach, facilitator and social entrepreneur. She loves helping engineers, scientists and people with something important to tell the world, craft a meaningful, engaging presentation they can use again and again to help their field shine. For assistance with your next conference or panel appearance email

Photo by Monica Silvestre.

Published by rachaelwest

Strategic Speaker Coach | Founder | Engineer

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