For many, speaking before an audience is a challenge. That difficult task can be made tougher by those seated in front of the presenter. They are sometimes inattentive, or talk among themselves or do worse. Attendees can make the most confident and experienced presenter deliver less than their best. The speaker doesn’t like this, and the audience does not benefit as they should.

It is a two-way street. There are specific things the presenter must do to make the event a success, and things the audience should do. The goal of this article is to develop better audiences that will help a speaker do their best.

People coming to see and hear a speaker have expectations. They are spending time and money to learn something. It may be the 100th time the presenter has given their talk, but it is the first time for this audience. The speaker should have prepared and practiced for the occasion: They must know their subject well and customize it, as much as possible, to the audience. It should be delivered in a manner that educates and entertains the audience, while explaining it in words they understand.

The audience can make or break a presentation. A good, enthusiastic group gives the speaker responses and energy that lead to a better presentation. To help the speaker and the audience, I’ve compiled a set of Audience Rules.

1. Be certain to arrive well before the scheduled event. You want the program to start when advertised and should be in your seat prior to it beginning. Arriving after an event has started and finding a seat is disruptive to attendees and the speaker.

2. Meeting the speaker before the presentation will help the speaker perform better and increase your takeaway. Be friendly and say, I’m looking forward to your presentation! That short sentence will give the speaker added incentive and energy for their upcoming talk.

It also benefits those attending the event. Having the presenter shake your hand and thank you for coming to their talk, makes people feel the speaker genuinely cares about the audience. The attention on the presentation will be more focused than if they had merely arrived and taken their seat.

3. Sit so your whole body faces the speaker. This isn’t a problem if chairs are already arranged in a classroom style. Sometimes, though, the presentation is after a meal where people are seated at round tables. It is best for the people to turn their chairs to face the presenter. Don’t sit with your arms crossed. This closes you off to new ideas and the speaker’s message. It also sends a negative nonverbal message to the presenter.

4. Be an active listener. Lean towards the speaker and listen intently. Make eye contact with the presenter. This lets them know you’re paying attention. If the speaker asks a question such as, Does that make sense? Motion your head up and down if it does, side to side if it doesn’t. If feedback indicates the audience is confused, a good speaker will restate their point in a different manner. They want you to understand their message.

5. Questions. If you want to ask the speaker a question, wait until the proper time. When asking a question, be polite in your language even if you disagree with something the speaker said. The presenter should show you the same courtesy. If you have more than one question, give others a chance to ask theirs before attempting to ask another.

6. Don’t talk to others, text, eat, drink, or do anything that could be distracting to the audience or speaker during the presentation.If others are talking, texting, etc., take a leadership role and politely ask them to stop, perhaps by giving them the Hush! signal. If their impolite activity bothers you, it is bothering others.

7. When the presentation ends, applaud! Do this even if you disagreed with some of their points. Most likely, they put much time, thought, and effort into their speech. That should be respected and acknowledged.

7. Personally thank the speaker. Most people immediately head for the exit doors when a presentation concludes. Don’t! Take time to approach the speaker and say, Thank You! If there were specific things you gained from the presentation, mention them when shaking their hand and thanking them. Following up with an email or personal note, again, naming something you definitely learned, will always be appreciated!

This is pretty basic Golden Rule stuff. Put yourself in the speaker’s position and imagine you’ve worked long and hard in preparation for talking to this group. How would you want to be treated by the audience? Answer that question and do it!

Following these guidelines will insure you—and other attendees—will receive the best presentation the speaker can deliver!

Fred Miller is the author of NO SWEAT Public Speaking! For more information, email him at or visit

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