I got the following big takeaway from my ROTC classes in college (ROTC = Reserve Officers’ Training Corps):
Here it is: “A Good Leader is a Good Follower.”
I learned that to lead, I had to be willing to be led.
When it comes to speaking, the same principle applies:
“To be a good public speaker, you have to be a good audience member.”
Being a good audience member will make you a better speaker by allowing you to learn from other speakers.
Here is a list of 8 things you can do to become a good audience member.
1 – Be respectful and non-judgmental.
Focus on the positive instead of the negative and that way you can always learn something.
Instead of looking at what the speaker is doing wrong, look at what the speaker is doing right.
2 – Challenge the speaker’s ideas with respect (if the context allows).
Example: Instead of saying “this is a stupid Idea.” Say:” Here is what I am concerned about…”
If the context does not allow, look for a chance to discuss with the speaker privately.
3 – Follow the presenter’s rules
If the speaker wants you to keep your questions to the end, then keep your questions to the end.
4 – Avoid being distracted with your computer, phone, or Ipad as much as you can.
Pay attention the speaker and take responsibility for your learning. There are always gold nuggets in everything you hear so look for them every time you are in the audience.
5 – Ask follow-up questions to clarify concepts
When the time is appropriate, ask questions to enhance your understanding and not to embarrass the speaker.
6 – Participate in the presentation
If the speaker wants interactivity, then interact and don’t hold back. You will get a lot more from the presentation by supporting the speaker.
7 – Don’t steal the speaker’s thunder. Be helpful with your participation and don’t pitch in just to show off your knowledge.
8 – Give positive feedback to the speaker after the presentation – Avoid giving constructive feedback unless it is asked for or when you have the authority to give it.
If you have to remember one thing about being a good audience member then remember the Golden Rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Being a good audience member will allow you to learn from other speakers and thus make you a better speaker.