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The Other Side of Presentation: The Audience

Mary Larweck, BSN, MS, CIC, CPHQ- Consultant, Emerald Quality Services, Mpls, MN
So now you are the one the presentation is forů
Did you know:
70% of management time is spent in verbal communication,
90% of ideas are spoken?

How can we get the most out of the presentation we attend? In the following paragraphs are some clues and "food for thought" on this question.

Three concepts that will be explored are: 1-How can the audience prepare to get the most out of a presentation? 2-What barriers do we as individuals bring to the audience role? 3-How can being a better audience help us be better presenters?

At the next presentation you attend as a member of the audience, start a bit earlier to prepare for your role. Use this list and assess its impact on what you gain from the presentation.

What do you know about the topic and the presenter? It is helpful to gain some insight into both ahead of time. This makes the presentation easier to follow; you have a better idea about what you want to learn. You can contemplate how the topic knowledge can assist you, your organization, and your colleagues. The challenge is to come prepared acknowledging the “fine line" to keep an "open mind”.
What are some listening skills you can practice? Richard Ross identifies these key listening actions in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook.
Stop talking to others and to yourself
Imagine the other person's point of view
Look, act, and be interested
Observe nonverbal behaviors
Listen between the lines
Stop talking. (This is the first and last item on the list because all other techniques of listening depend on it.) "Take a vow of silence once in a while"
Though the next two items may seem obvious, they need to be acknowledged.
First, arrive at the presentation in time to select a location that allows you to see visual material, hear and see the presenter, be minimally distracted by room disturbances.
Second, come prepared to keep track of key points during the presentation. This means have a method of mental association and/or jot down key words or take outline notes.
Lastly, what about participation? Asking a question, clarifying a key point not only helps you to get more out of the presentation but may also help others and doing so helps engage the presenter and the audience. This active listening technique is very effective and we don't use it enough.
Recapping, there are many actions we can take to enhance our return on a presentation as members of the audience.

What are some of the barriers we often bring to a presentation as individuals? Here are four for your consideration:
Our expectations.
What have we heard about the subject and/or presenter already?
Our prior experiences.
How was the last presentation we heard on this topic or by this presenter?
Our distractions.
What is the pace of the day? What meeting is after the presentation? What is going on at home? How do we remain in the present, (where we are now, so we can experience the "presentation" to its fullest)?
Our perceptions and biases!
Now that we have some ideas on how to get more out of a presentation from the audience perspective, it is an easy transition to see how this insight can help us as presenters. Reflect for a moment on your last presentation.

How can being a better audience help me be a better presenter? Start by asking yourself "what is the take home message from my presentation?" Here is a "take home check list" to use for your next presentation:
Increase your awareness of clear visual aides and enunciation; the speed, and volume of your delivery.
Include audience participation and assure good eye contact throughout the group.
Include references that will help the audience relate and increase your credibility.
Address distractions as promptly as possible (noise, temperature, AV problems). Have a person assigned to help, if possible.
Provide resources for those who would like more information.
Keep the presentation and handout material in the same order to facilitate note taking.
Identify your biases and perceptions as a way to help the audience acknowledge their own.
Follow the Dale Carnegie rule. "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them." Give the audience clear expectations, deliver a clear message, and summarize at the end.
As a presenter remember you must be present. The audience is listening to you in the present. The opportunity is NOW!

Presentation of ideas and information is critical to our success whether it is in a formal or an informal setting. Remember, 70% of management's time is spent in verbal communication and 90% of ideas are spoken.

Heed the advice of Shakespeare's King Lear-

  “Mend your speech, lest you mar your fortune?”


Senge P, Kleiner A, Roberts C, Ross R, Smith B, “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook”, Doubleday, New York, 1994.

Covey S, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1989.

King J, “Presentation Skills”, Communi-King, 1991.

Carnegie D, “Effective Speaking and Human Relations”, Carnegie Press, New York, 1973. EQS/MKL/5/00

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