Ten Ways You Can Help Your Speaker Succeed

Amy Sullivan Hammond Listening Intently

When a speaker claims, “I really wowed that audience,” he or she is taking far too much credit for the success of the presentation. Why? Because give the same speaker an audience who doesn’t offer interest and support, and the result will be dismal. Far more than we estimate, audiences play a central role in the results of a speech.

Here are ten audience behaviors that will boost every speaker’s performance:

ONE: GIVE POWERFUL VISUAL CUES
In the photo above, Amy Sullivan Hammond illustrates the expression that would energize any speaker. Her posture is alert, and her pleasant demeanor reflects that she is enjoying the speech. Too, she appears inquisitive. She is making direct eye contact. Contrast this with the audience member who is doodling (or texting, which constitutes the contemporary version of doodling), looking out the window, or–at worst–nodding off with closed eyes. Again, note Amy’s vibrant nonverbal participation. She serves as a role model for facial and physical messages.

TWO: BE PUNCTUAL
Arrive several minutes before the speech starts, and when the group breaks for refreshments or a meal be among the first to return to the meeting room. Invariably, latecomers prompt other audience members to turn around to see who opened the door, and they become more distracted when the tardy attendant has to crawl over several people to reach his seat. The speaker notices those movements, too, and loses a vital sense of audience command.

THREE: SILENCE YOUR ELECTRONICS
Imagine that you’re addressing an audience, when suddenly a cell phone goes off–and continues ringing, because the owner cannot remember which pocket holds his phone, or a lady starts digging through her purse to find hers. If you were the speaker, you would become uncomfortable, and probably annoyed. As a preventive precaution, silence your phones, pagers, and beepers before you walk into the auditorium. You and the speaker will be glad you did.

FOUR: PARTICIPATE, BUT DON’T DOMINATE
Most presenters recognize the value of audience participation. Discussion brings variety of format, and often introduces provocative ideas. Your speaker will be delighted when you offer a comment or question, and will even welcome a challenge to her stated position. Yet keep your comments brief, and don’t comment too often, so you’ll give others a chance. As elementary school teachers tell their classes, this is “share time,” and no one person deserves total attention.

FIVE: AVOID SIDE CONVERSATIONS
An amazing transition happens when we become adults and start speaking in our company meetings, in civic clubs, or at professional conferences. Suddenly, we become acutely aware of how noticeable side conversations are. During our high school days, we assumed the teacher didn’t see or hear us because we sat on the tenth row. Now we realize that those mumblings and murmurings remain conspicuous even when the chatterboxes sit as many as twenty or thirty rows from the podium. So hold your chit chat until an announced break.

SIX: BRING RELEVANT MATERIALS
Completing an evaluation form after an all-day seminar, a participant complained: “Why didn’t somebody tell me I needed something to write with?” Sound atypical? Unfortunately, it isn’t. As a session begins, the speaker might hear “I didn’t bring along the information you e-mailed us. Got a spare copy with you?” Avoid sounding unprepared. Demonstrate that you rate the session valuable enough to come equipped with all relevant materials. Your speaker will welcome that courtesy, along with the eagerness you reflect.

SEVEN: JOIN THE APPLAUSE
In show business, comics refer to non-responsive audiences as “sitting on their hands.” For the speaker, that’s discouraging. So when you agree with the speaker’s statement, show your appreciation by applauding. Don’t worry if you’re the first one to applaud, others are likely to join you quickly. Certainly you retain the privilege of not applauding when you don’t endorse the speaker’s words. Again though, when you’re in favor of what is said, express your approval through applause.

EIGHT: DON’T CHECK YOUR WATCH
Next time you’re part of an audience, note what happens when someone near you checks her watch. The person next to her checks his. People across the isle see their action, and look at theirs. Does the speaker notice these time-checkers? Yes, even from farther away than you might guess. Well, what if no one else saw you check the time, not even the speaker? You still are not giving the speaker your complete attention. So trust that the speech or meeting will end in a reasonable amount of time, and stay absorbed in the message.

NINE: INTERACT WHEN INSTRUCTED TO
Today’s speakers recognize that people learn more and remember more when they interact during a presentation, under the leader’s guidance. However, some audience members lack enthusiasm for these activities. Either they leave the room, or they remain and start reading their e-mails. To support your speaker, go along with the interaction she requests. Although the words and motions might seem pointless initially, most of the time the dialogue or brief team work will make a valid point that amplifies the theme. Your speaker will appreciate your cooperation, and you will gain perspective you’d miss otherwise.

TEN: COMPLETE THE EVALUATION SHEET
Frequently a presenter asks you to complete an evaluation sheet after the speech. Although we’re tempted to gather our belongings and head for the exit, we will assist the speaker greatly with our candid, constructive feedback. As long as you offer your recommendations tactfully, your speaker will use your suggestions to improve his speech for the next audience. When you write, “PowerPoint slides needed more graphics,” the speaker will insert photos and clip art to enliven the visual aids. Tell what you liked, too: “I’m glad your speech was so well organized, made it easy to follow.”

In short: As an audience member, potentially you are a valuable ally for the speaker. Follow these ten suggestions, and help speakers accomplish their mission, so you and others will get the full benefit of the expertise they offer.

RESPOND WITH YOUR COMMENTS
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10 Life Lessons from Star Athlete Eagle Day

Star Athlete Who Starred in Life

Eagle Day and I grew up less than a mile apart in the tiny town of Columbia, Mississippi. In high school, he became one of my early heroes, because of his remarkable athletic skills.

Consider these achievements:
–Earned 16 letters at Columbia High School: football, baseball, basketball, track
–All-SEC Quarterback at Ole Miss, leading the team to consecutive SEC crowns
–Most valuable back in Cotton Bowl, where he spearheaded a dramatic victory over TCU
–Cotton Bowl, Missisippi, and Ole Miss Halls of Fame
–Played fourteen years of professional football, most valuable player in 1962 in the Canadian Football League

Thrilling as it was to watch my boyhood friend and idol go that far, Eagle Day turned into a different kind of hero for me after his playing days. He became a solid family man, civic and church leader, and supporter of his alma mater. He spoke at youth camps and churches, and volunteered for numerous charities. He helped young athletes hone their skills.

Professionally, he established a successful insurance business, then became Executive Director of the Mississippi Motor Vehicle Commission.

On February 22,2008, this grand champion of athletics and life died from cancer. I lost a lifelong friend. Let me share with you, though, Eagle Day’s ten lessons from winning at life, as I understand them from our many discussions across several decades.

LESSON ONE
: Keep an upbeat attitude. Across many years, whenever I would call Eagle and ask, “How are you doing?” he offered a one-word answer: “Fantastic.” Life to him was fantastic. He endured setbacks like everybody else, but he considered them nothing more than temporary challenges.

LESSON TWO: Have a goal. I asked Eagle once, “How did you have the discipline to keep going–practicing, eating right, training, and avoiding the bad habits most of us had as teenagers? What made you stick with athletics so faithfully?” He answered: “I wanted to catch the bus out of town.” He loved that little town,yet he knew that his talent and dedication could take him many more places.

LESSON THREE
: Never envy anyone else. Eagle grew up in very moderate economic circumstances. He could have become bitter about his school mates who enjoyed many more privileges. But he never complained. In fact, he told me once, “The other man’s grass might look greener. . .but did you ever try to mow it?”

LESSON FOUR: Don’t let others intimidate you. “Bill,” he told me, “I never think of myself as better than anybody else. At the same time, I never think of anybody else as better than me. We’re all on equal footing.”

LESSON FIVE: Prepare thoroughly. “At Calgary, I was the first player on the practice field, and the last to leave,” he explained. At Ole Miss, he had 150 plays to remember, plus their various formations. “Before a big game, I might not sleep more than three hours, as I pictured every possibility, and how I would react.” In his words, “Win before you ever hit the field.”

LESSON SIX
: Help your teammates. As head of the Motor Vehicle Division, he spent many hours preparing his board chairman for a leadership role in the meetings.

LESSON SEVEN
: Always be available to those who need you. In 1975, my mother suffered a severe stroke, and was hospitalized in Jackson, MS. I called Eagle, and told him how much it would mean if he visited my distraught, aged father. Eagle came to the hospital that afternoon. Immediately, I could see my father’s spirits lifted.

LESSON EIGHT
: Take a risk when you have the ability. Ole Miss was losing that 1956 Cotton Bowl in the closing minutes. Ole Miss had the ball, but it was fourth down. Eagle knew that Coach Johnny Vaught wanted Eagle to punt. Eagle had confidence he could complete a pass. He did, to get the first down. Shortly afterward, Eagle ran 25 yards to the five yard line. The score on the next play, plus the extra point, assured the 14-13 victory over TCU. Sports writers dubbed Eagle “The Mississippi Gambler.” He disagreed, saying he knew all along he could make the fourth down pass play work.

LESSON NINE: Take pride in your appearance. Coach Vaught instilled that in his players–“Look good, and you’ll feel like a champion.” While others welcomed “business casual” and carried it to sloppy extremes, Eagle invariably looked like a man out of Esquire.

LESSON TEN
: Look beyond human help. For many years, Eagle was active in Jackson’s First Baptist Church. He ushered and attended Tuesday Bible study lunch meetings. In a speech to a men’s group at the church, he concluded with: “Don’t remember me as number 19 (his football jersey number). Instead, remember me as a man of integrity.”

Shortly after Eagle’s untimely death, I remembered what Vince Lombardi said about the Green Bay Packers: “We never lost a game. Sometimes the clock just ran out.” I can assure you, Eagle Day was a winner in every phase of life. The clock ran out, but the score remains in his favor nevertheless.

NO SURPRISE

It’s no surprise that I tell the Eagle Day story in every motivational speech, and include it in my audio CD about maintaining maximum motivation. You can order that CD–“Always Push the Up Button”–from my Web site:

http://tinyurl.com/ljr54y

NOTE: You’ll see that “Always Push the Up Button” is available as an MP3 also.

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