Knowing how to speak in public and make presentations is a key skill.
Nevertheless, we are almost never the one giving the presentation. Rather, we are almost always the ones who are listening. As much or even more key than knowing how to make a presentation is the skill of knowing how to listen to and profit from a presentation.
Something similar happens in the case of leadership: there are tons of courses on how to exercise leadership, but no courses on “How to be led.”
Now, what profit can you squeeze out of listening to a presentation? It will probably be more than what you think about the topic or the new information you hear from the speaker. Here are a few tips that I always keep in mind, to help you maximize the benefits you take away from a public presentation, simply by listening:
- Choose the presentation you want to listen to. The main advantage of listening to presentations is not necessarily the topic or the presenter: it could just be a boring salesman selling blenders! But if the topic is interesting and the presenter is good, all the better for you.
- Put your telephone in airport mode…and your ego, too. Avoid distractions, especially from your mobile phone. Messages, emails, calls, etc. don’t stop during the presentation; they continuously tempt our short attention span. And showing respect for others, you don’t want them to be distracted by your device. So put your phone in airport mode but keep it handy, in case you want to take a quick photo of an interesting picture or diagram.
Neither should we go into a presentation with preconceived notions or to interrogate the presenter: we are not the jury on a Got Talent show. Our attitude toward the presenter and their organization becomes one of grateful recognition for the hard work and preparation and courage put into sharing their experience with you.
- Listening is itself a form of mini-mindfulness, an exercise in humility. Listening means to pay attention, to stay focused on the topic. It also means respecting the presence of others at the presentation, which obliges us to be quiet and urges us to remain in the here and now. It is a great moment for introspection. Listening to a presentation is a bit like sitting in your seat on an airplane with your earphones on, focused on what’s in front of you with nobody to distract you: a luxury in these highly distracting times we live in.
- Get a good seat if you can. The closer the better! Where you can clearly see and hear both the speaker and the screen. If you’re unlucky enough to have a big tall person like me sitting in front of you, or if the room is inadequate in some way (as so often it is), then the presentation can be ruined for you.
- They say we have two ears but one mouth so as to listen twice as much as we speak. Here is the moment to put this to work! Find out beforehand if you will have E-access to the presentation, then you won’t need to write detailed notes. Forget electronic devices and use pen and paper, so low battery or other glitches won’t make you lose the thread of the presentation. Sit back and relax, breathe deep and listen. Let the presentation massage your brain, and… then the magic begins. If your emotions are awakened, any of them—even the urge to throw your pen at the presenter! —it is the sign that you are doing well. We are emotional beings, and true learning only takes places when emotions grab hold of the contents.
- And now: Pay attention! The most valuable part of the presentation will be the new ideas that you allow to arise within your head! Let the ideas of the presenter have an intimate moment with your own ideas; let them spark each other. Maybe the presentation is valuable precisely for what you have been seeking on a professional or personal level; maybe it gives you a solution to that problem rattling about in your brain; maybe you get an idea that applies directly to your company or your family; perhaps you hear something that enables you to develop a new project. Write quick notes of what arises within you; don’t let a great new idea get lost. Make graphs or doodles or pictures that connect your brain to the paper. When the presentation is finished, within the next few hours, write out with more detail the ideas that came to you.
In short, with open mind and no distractions, with the ego in airplane mode and with personal challenges awaiting solutions, public presentations on any topic and with any presenter become a potent source of inspiration for inner change in the grand sudoku which is your life…and even more when the speaker and the theme are awesome.