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So In Conclusion October 16, 2009

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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I once worked with a person who was brilliant but, shall we say, less than tactful.  He could be abrupt and had a tin ear for many societal niceties, especially with those that he felt were wasting his time.

Once he was sitting through an interminable technical presentation.  As the speaker went through his slides, the crowd became increasingly restless but sat politely.  My coworker could finally take no more and called out from the back of the room, “So in conclusion!”  The speaker, rattled, quickly wrapped up and released the crowd.

The common reaction among those in the meeting was to outwardly note the terribly rude behavior but inwardly breathe a sigh of relief.  No one wanted to sit there; one person had the nerve to express what everyone was thinking.

Who hasn’t been in this position?  Who hasn’t wished for someone to take one for the team and cut short an awful speaker? Yet we won’t, because most of us are far too civil to do such a rude thing in public.

Perhaps we should. I do a lot of speaking, and I always hope that I am serving my audience well.  But I know that I often do not, and that they would rather move things along and call it a day.  While being shouted at from the back of the room might be a bit much, I would truly appreciate a gentle comment to pick up the pace or to redirect the flow of the presentation.  Speaking is about serving the audience, not yourself.

Similarly, those of us speaking need to be attuned to the subtle cues that our audience is giving us.  Shouted advice notwithstanding, our audience is telling us how we are doing with their posture, their eyes, and their furtive text messaging below the table.  If your audience is drifting away, that’s your fault, not theirs.

Whether I am speaking or listening, I look forward to the end of the presentation. Not because it is over, but because that’s where the questions get asked.  I find a dialog between a speaker and the audience much more useful than a monologue. I view the speaking part of the engagement as a way to set the stage, to provide background information, and to pique the audience’s interest.  With appetites whetted, we can then engage in a directed conversation that everyone benefits from.

I am always frustrated by panel discussions. I love listening to panelists field questions from the audience, comparing divergent opinions on the fly.  Why, then, do panel moderators almost always arrange for panelists to speak for fifty minutes, allowing ten minutes at the end “in case there might be questions?”  “Might be?” I’d rather have the panelists speak for at most ten minutes, with fifty minutes guaranteed for questions. If they can’t generate any questions in ten minutes, you have the wrong panelists!

As always, speakers need to focus on their customer: the audience.  The audience wants to be entertained and educated; rarely do they simply want to bask in your presence.  In conclusion, we need to be more attuned to the subtle cues of our audience so that we meet and exceed their expectations.

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