Audience Member Took Action After I Spoke

Lifelong Friend Dr. Jim Woods Hosted Me

Recently I spoke to the Rotary Club in Clemson, SC, at the invitation of a lifelong friend from my hometown of Columbia, Mississippi, Dr. Jim Woods.

As a retired orthodontist, Jim enjoys using his newly created free time to serve as a volunteer for worthwhile organizations in his community. He told me that he learned something valuable about communication during my Rotary speech, which he applied with highly satisfactory results a few days later at another group’s planning session.

My Rotary speech focused on three essential steps for becoming a highly effective communicator: using clear language, making the most of that unique instrument known as your voice, and listening intently and non-judgmentally.

Later in the week, Jim participated in a second group session, geared to explain a fund raising campaign to Board members of a charity seeking $20 million in gifts. To expose the members to various viewpoints small groups circulated around the room until they heard presentations from six discussion leaders. Jim was one of those leaders.

To keep the group moving, the Board chairperson announced, “These will be twelve-minute breakouts. Each time, I will announce the ten-minute mark, so you can start winding up your interaction.”

When the first group came to Jim’s table, he launched into his outline of the capital campaign’s plan, detailing where the gifts would come from and how the Board would allocate them. During his fast-paced delivery, the Board chair announced: “Ten minutes gone, wrap it up in two minutes.” Jim decided he’d better talk even faster to cover all he wanted to say.

Yet before he resumed speaking, an attorney friend sitting beside him tapped him on the arm and asked: “Jim, I’ve got a question: Don’t you want our input? We’ve got some questions and probably some good ideas we want to share with you.”

Instantly, Jim realized that his monologue had dominated the allotted time. A bit red-faced, he answered: “Why of course, you’re right. I’ll be quiet for the next two minutes. Please pardon my misstep as a leader, and tell us your thoughts.”

When the seven people starting contributing their ideas, a fresh stream of energy began to flow around the table. Jim felt the change, and so did the others.

At the twelve-minute mark, Jim’s first group left and the second arrived. This time, Jim announced at the outset why he was altering his initial format: “I’ll begin by telling you what happened at my Rotary club meeting on Monday. Sometimes I don’t remember what our weekly guest speaker said, but this time his message stuck with me, especially when he talked about listening as one of our most powerful communication skills, yet also one of our most neglected skills. Using several brief stories, he illustrated that keen listeners learn far more—and even contribute far more—than great speakers. He challenged us to reduce our talking time and increase our listening time, both in conversations and in meetings.”

Jim admitted further, “With my first group today, I forgot that advice. I talked the entire ten minutes before we got the ten-minute signal. Then one of my friends asked me, quite politely, if I would welcome comments and questions. That jarred me. I acknowledged that I had prevented input by everyone else because I had failed to listen. So in this session and the following ones, I am going to revise my approach. I will give my overview of the campaign quickly in the first two minutes. Then the next ten minutes are yours. This will give us a chance to hear questions, objections, suggestions, and campaign endorsements that we’d miss if I did all the talking. So get set to jump in two minutes from now with what you’re thinking about this multimillion dollar campaign.”

That session, and the ones following, fostered lively, frank, and creative analysis of the campaign. Jim sensed what the change from monologue to dialogue had accomplished in the group’s mood, too. He reported, “I could feel that they felt valued and appreciated.”

A couple of days later, Jim called me tell me how my tips about listening had revolutionized his style as a moderator—and how rewarding the results were. Jim said, “Maybe you wonder if audience members ever follow the advice you give when you speak. Well, I can assure you that at least one person—me—tried what you recommended on Monday. And I guarantee, the change in the group’s response was so magical that I have overcome my tendency to do all the talking when I give a presentation. I’m going to remember, and act on, that advice you gave from Stephen Covey: ‘Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.’”

Clearly, the lesson Jim learned about listening brought a permanent improvement in his communication. So put the power of listening to the test, as he did. The results will amaze you, and all those you lead.

Dr. Jim Woods and I will welcome your response. Go to the end of the blog entry in the section below and click NO COMMENTS if none have been made, or if comments have been made click 1 comment, 2 comments, or whatever the comments button says. The comments section will appear.

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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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I’ll welcome your response to this article about how listeners can help speakers. Go to the end of the blog entry in the section below and click NO COMMENTS if none have been made, or if comments have been made click 1 comment, 2 comments, or whatever the comments button says. The comments section will appear.

Amy Sullivan Hammond is a remarkable entrepreneur who operates a thriving business while caring for four children. Fortunately, she helps other “Mompreneurs” succeed in business and in life. Here’s her Facebook page:


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