How to Listen to a Speech

How should you listen to a speech?  What is the most valuable attitude to develop as an audience member?

Decide you are going to ask the first question at the end of the talk.  
Raised Arm

Listen to the speaker and look for your question.

There are three important benefits of asking the first question at the end of a talk:

  • You raise your profile – You look like a leader.  The room will remember you.  You get all the benefits of having spoken without preparing a speech.  You’ll be promoted.  You’ll be remembered when an important project comes along.
  • The speaker will love you – and if the speaker is your boss…  or your bosses boss… this has tremendous impact on your career.  As a speaker, I know the painful feeling of finishing my prepared talk, asking “what questions do you have?” and waiting through several seconds of painful blank stares before somebody raises their hand.  A good first question can start a powerful dialogue that can be of more impact than the prepared talk.
  • You practice public speaking – Asking questions can be as daunting as standing up and speaking, but by regularly asking questions you are improving your capacity to deliver big speeches.  Start with gratitude.  “Thank you for your talk”.  Next state the situation “You mentioned X.  I agree with Y”.  Now deliver your question “What criteria were most important in making this decision?”
There is another benefit for those who have enjoyed the conference dinner and drinks the previous night: You don’t fall asleep – The apprehension keeps you awake.  You are listening intently so that your question is intelligent, relevant and allows the speaker to enter a dialogue that is fully relevant to the audience.
Some caveats…
  • Don’t do “hello, hello… is this working?” – Not a great start.  Let the person handing out the microphone ensure it is working before you begin your question.  Ask them to do the sound test before they hand you the microphone (you look like a leader).
  • Don’t ask aggressive questions – This is not the moment to catch the speaker out, or score cheap points of logic.
  • Make sure your question is a question – One thing I personally hate is the arrogant individual who uses the opportunity to ask a question to state their own personal opinion.  This is question and answer time for the invited speaker.  If the room really want your opinion they will invite you back as a speaker.
  • Ask good questions. Open ended, Curious, Interested…  don’t ask questions unless you genuinely want to know the answer.  Gary Cohen on a post on the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation website gives six ways to improve the way you ask.
Next time you listen to a speaker: Ask the first question.
And if you are the speaker…  5 ways to handle questions during your presentation.

What are your thoughts?

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