I have the opportunity to attend and speak at conferences pretty frequently. But it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t too long ago that I was only able to attend a conference every other year. So when I was able to get away to a conference it was a pretty big deal. I tried to get the most of my time by attending as many sessions as I could. I quickly realized that not every speaker was a “good” speaker. I’d be in a session on a topic that I was really jazzed about and the speaker would start the session and they would just kill my excitement. Why? Many times it was because the speaker was dull, dreary, or just plain ‘ol boring. So what did I do? I just sat there politely and was bored out of my gourd. It took me a few conferences to realize that by sticking around I was only hurting myself. I needed to be in a session where I would learn something (nowadays I just create my own hallway session,).
When I started speaking I wanted to put together sessions that were fun and informative, unlike some of those bad ones that I’ve witnessed. When putting together these presentations what I realized is that my audience doesn’t have to stay throughout my presentation. They can be on their phone the entire time; they can arrive late and leave early; they can just sit there and not learn a darned thing. My job wasn’t to make the audience learn. My job is to present in such a way that they would want to stay, participate, and learn something new.
So out of this thinking I came up with the Audience Bill of Rights. But these really aren’t for the audience, these are for the speakers. We, as speakers, need to keep our audience first and foremost in our presentations. Our sessions shouldn’t be focused on showing how smart we are to the audience. It should be to show the audience how smart they can be with the information we’re giving them. So here are my proposed Audience Bill of Rights and if you’re a speaker I challenge you follow these.
Audience Bill of Rights
- The audience has the right to leave the presentation.
Speakers, it’s your job to be engaging and to keep them there. If they do leave don’t ridicule them, let them go. Maybe they have an emergency? Don’t be the guy that’s making fun of an attendee that’s leaving when the attendee just got a text message saying that their kid is in the hospital.
- The audience has a right for the presentation to be in alignment with the title and abstract.
Your abstract and title is a contract between you and the audience. Don’t break it. When you do, you lower yourself to a two-bit car salesman that got a family of five into the showroom looking for a minivan and then showed them the new Porsche.
- The audience has the right not to hear about speaker’s political, religious, or other life philosophies.
You should have political, religious, and philosophical views but they don’t belong in the presentation unless its explicitly in the abstract. Technical conferences aren’t the place for you to spout your philosophies. If you want to do that, find another place. I hear the internet is a good place for that.
- The audience has a right for the presentation to start and end on time.
If you don’t, the audience will start throwing cell phones from the 1980’s at you. There are other fantastic speakers to see. When you don’t start and end on-time you’re just being rude and not respecting the audience’s time.
- The audience has a right to arrive late and leave early.
Yup. It’s a double standard. But the audience has to deal with long lines for the restroom and for the food. They just may be a bit late.
- The audience has a right to read your slides.
You’re not an optometrist. Have slides that can be easily read from the back of the room. And no, “I didn’t know the room would be so big” is not a good excuse. It’s your job to be prepared.
- The audience has a right to ask questions and to have them answered.
You may have a fantastic presentation that when you reach the climax at the end the audience will weep joyous tears. So you don’t have time for questions. But there will be questions. So, stick around after the presentation and answer them if you can’t answer them during the session. If you can’t stay afterwards, then gather the questions up and answer them by e-mail or put them in a blog post. It’s the right thing to do.
- The audience has the right to be entertained.
When I look at my favorite technical speakers every single one of them have great content, great demos, and are very entertaining. Why is this important? If you really want to go the extra mile and have your presentation be memorable let the audience have some fun in your session. Think of it this way, if you’re entertaining and your content isn’t received very well by the attendee most likely walkout and say “I didn’t get much out of it but at least the speaker was entertaining.” If you’re not entertaining they’ll walkout and say “I didn’t learn a thing and the speaker kinda sucked.” Your choice.
- The audience has the right to use their phone, tablet, computer, or other device as long as it’s not disruptive to others.
Don’t worry about folks on their devices. They may be taking notes or trying to figure out how to implement your content in their environment. Or they may be writing the next great SQL Server tool (true story).
- The audience has the right to view your presentation slides offline.
Have the presentation available online for your audience. It’s definitely useful to be able to go back and view the presentation at a later date. If you don’t want to have a digital copy of your presentation then give your audience a paper copy. They will appreciate it.
So do you agree with these? Did I miss some and these need to be amended? Leave a comment below and let’s have a conversation.
Do you want to see me put this in action? Check out my Presentations page to see where I’m presenting next.