Online Public Speaking

Training & Practice

The Power of the Audience - Part 2 of 2

Next on our journey to become a great audience is to be honest. When someone is trying to build their skills, it won't do any good if people lie to them. In either direction. Don't "blow smoke" as the saying goes, by telling someone they were great if they weren't. Which relates to being gentle. Be gentle, use the term "opportunities", and tell it like it is, within reason.

For instance, if a fellow member has just given a presentation and you feel it was lacking in a SPECIFIC area, don't just overlook it out of some sense of being "nice" or "polite". That person is HERE because they want to do well when they get up in front of a live audience in person at some point.

Imagine this scenario. One friend asks another lifelong friend to listen to his speech and give him feedback. The friend has no idea what constitutes a "great" speech or not, but he's a good friend so he listens. Friend A gets up and delivers what a skilled presenter would know is a presentation that needed a lot more work on writing, on finding a subject of passion, less personal details, and a heck of a lot more practice to make whatever he said sound smooth. The trouble is, Friend B doesn't know much about speaking, and to him it sounded good. So he says "That was great!" That feedback could inspire Friend A to stop practicing right there and proceed with what would unfortunately be a weak presentation.

Similarly, if the audience DOES know that the presenter needed work on areas but that person doesn't say anything along those lines, the audience might as well have known nothing about public speaking in the first place. They could be one of the best experts in the world, but if he or she doesn't give real, constructive feedback, it doesn't matter.

Be gentle, be proactive by saying "opportunities", but be honest. And we should clarify that honest does NOT equal picky. When someone is trying to work on their presentation skills, don't expect them to sound like Martin Luther King Jr. - yet. There's a fine line between constructive, honest feedback and picky criticism. Work on knowing where that line is.

6) Pay Attention!

There's a line in a movie that goes "Did you ever notice that so many people seem to be just waiting for their turn to speak instead of listening?" Unfortunately, lots of people do that. When it's your turn to be the audience, please listen.

Don't text, read your email, talk to others around you, or anything other than just listening. The average presentation is only going to be a couple of minutes. You could theoretically be in and out of a meeting with some practice with 5 other people in fifteen minutes or so. And don't forget, if you want great feedback, give great feedback. This way the system really works for everyone.

7) Share Something in Return

Lastly, to be a great audience who helps others learn to speak in public, and to therefore have the benefits yourself of having others help you, share anecdotes and stories while giving feedback that you think can help the speaker.

Again, we tread carefully with this concept like we did above by saying be honest but not picky. This requires finesse. If you share a powerful, relevant personal story with a presenter about a situation that you feel will help them improve their presentation skills, you may do them a world of good. Hearing you say "I was nervous once also at an event, but I did such and such..." can be a big help. That sense of a kindred experience can benefit someone in a similar position immensely.

On the other hand, people droning on about their own experiences every time can bore the heck out of people and be no help at all. For example, it's boring to hear a former sports professional turned sports commentator talking constantly about their glory days instead of talking about the present. If every audience member gives feedback that spends too much time on THEIR past, the benefit will probably be lost on the speaker getting the feedback.

Balance is key. Remember that your stories may not be that interesting to someone else, and if you find a relevant point in your past, share it carefully and succinctly. Delivered well, your fellow Pspeak member will surely be very grateful that you took the time to listen to them and that you shared a personal detail of your own.

In conclusion, take your role as an audience member seriously. As such, you have the ability to help others master something that can change their lives. If YOU are skilled, you can give specific feedback. If you are honest, yet fair and gentle and proactive, you can make the life of someone that you may never even meet in person much better. That is power. And with power comes great responsibility.