Quick Guide on How to Behave at a Presentation

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Today I've spent half a day at a VMWare event organized by IDG in Bucharest (my thanks to the organizers for the invitation). While I'm planning to write another post about how to learn at a vendor event, this post will be a bit different.

I have discovered that quite a few people present at such events do not know how to behave. And I am not talking here about the socializing part, nor about common sense (as in switching off your mobile while attending a presentation, not picking your nose in public, etc), but rather to the way they interact with the presenter and others in the audience during a session. So, here is my short list on how to behave at a presentation:

  1. Raise your hand. We all learnt this from the school, but it looks like over years some tend to forget it. It is impolite to speak without permission, so raising your hand will signal that you have something to say.
  2. Introduce yourself. You already know the name of the speaker, so considering you are trying to create a conversation, it would be polite to introduce yourself. In case your question is interesting for the rest of the audience, some may consider contacting you afterwards or citing you.
  3. Make sure others we'll hear you. The presenter's time is shared between all participants so it would be nice that others will benefit of your question. If it is a private question, you can wait for after the session.
  4. Be short and focused. Do keep in mind that there are others in the room and they are there for the presentation (and not for you).
    1. If it is a question: ask your question. In case your question needs some context make sure you are able to formulate that in at most one sentence.
    2. If you have more than one question, make sure you ask permission for asking all of them. Some presenters may prefer to address questions from multiple persons in the room.
    3. If it is a comment: make sure you ask for presenter's permission. The audience is interested in what the presenter has to say and in case you are not an expert in the field others will not care about your comment.
    4. Don't offer free advise to the presenter if he is not asking for it. While you might think that you have a better answer, I'm pretty sure that you don't know the whole context.
    5. Do not rant. And I'll say it again: Do not rant. In case you are not specifically asked for your opinion, I'll most probably not be interested on your comments to comments, comments to questions, etc. And others in the audience may probably feel the same.
  5. In case your question was not completely answered, it is better to continue the conversation with the presenter after the session. Others have the right to ask their questions too.

"It doesn't hurt to ask". Actually, it does hurt. It does hurt to ask the wrong way, to ask without preparation, to ask without permission.

Seth Godin

Dedicated to all those that do not know how to behave at a presentation.

Disclaimer: as you can imagine by now, this post was caused by a couple of annoying people at the event. While I am pretty sure they will not read the post and most probably next time they will annoy once again the presenter, me and the rest of the audience, I'll probably have a couple of printed copies in my pocket and I'll make sure to handle them one at that time.