While I'd like to say I practice all of these tips all of the time, I have to admit that sometimes I'm guilty of audience laziness (usually arising from workshop overload), and need a reminder to do some of the following:
- Be on time. If tardiness is unavoidable for some life-or-death reason, choose a seat in the back, and/or wait patiently for a break in the action. Or, maybe even stand if you have to, especially if you arrive more than a few minutes late.
- Silence your phone and then put it away. It's less distracting to you, the speaker and those around you. If you need to have your phone out for some reason, make it as unobtrusive as possible.
- Be quiet. You'd think this one would be a no-brainer, but...no. A quiet aside to a friend or a relevant question is one thing. An entire discussion belongs out in the hall.
- Make eye contact. It's not only polite, but it's the fastest way to let the speaker know you're paying attention.
- Smile. I love to speak, yet still find it nerve-wracking, at least until I get rolling. Nothing is more appreciated than an audience member who looks interested in what you have to say. Quiet animation is a wonderful gift from listener to speaker.
- Ask questions...but don't monopolize the speaker. Most speakers try to allow time at the end of a session for audience questions, but time is often tight, especially if many people want to ask something. Formulate your question (write it down if necessary) so that you don't fumble through it, and limit yourself to no more than one clarification or follow-up. Then thank the speaker and let someone else have a turn.
- Show your appreciation...Applaud (if appropriate) and, if the group is small enough, thank the speaker as you leave. Even presenters who make it look easy -- especially those presenters, in fact -- have put a lot of time into making even a short presentation look impressive. A positive response is always appreciated.
- ...then exit graciously. A brief thank you or private question is one thing, but an extended conversation can be an intrusion. Most speakers are relieved to have completed their task and, especially at a conference, may be on a tight schedule. If you want to take advantage of a speaker's expertise for more than a few minutes, take a business card and follow up with an e-mail.