TBT - It takes two to tango ... and to communicate

Today begins a new series of twice-told tales as I hit the archives of my previous blogs and rework and retell some posts of yore.

As I was reminded by Kathy Reiffenstein, Better Listeners Get Better Speakers just like better customers generally get better customer service. It takes two parties to participate in the communication dance to make it work. Even if the part the audience plays is a silent one with the speaker onstage giving a speech, the energy and attention the audience contributes to the environment will affect the overall experience. This article lead me to one of Seth Godin's where he comments:

"Live interaction still matters. Teachers, meetings, presentations, one on one brainstorms--they can lead to real change. The listener has nearly as big a responsibility as the speaker does, though. And yet, Google reports four times as many matches for "how to speak" as "how to listen." It's not a passive act, not if you want to do it right."

This is even truer in smaller presentations like business meetings or classes. There are few speaking challenges harder than facing a room of stone silent participants. There is nothing to feed off of. There are no indications of understanding, consent, argument ... nothing. If the speaker asks questions and no one answers them, the presentation is dead in the water. If the presentation is set up to allow for dialog and none occurs, there is a tremendous lost opportunity and wasted time for all parties. 

The participants may be communicating with others outside of the room via their mobile devices but there is little communication happening between the presenter and the audience members. Communication can’t happen if both parties don’t play along. And at the core that is what a presentation is, a type of communication.


If the presentation isn’t quite hitting the spot and it can be handled respectfully, ask the presenter to speed up, clarify or whatever would be appropriate. Perhaps this feedback needs to happen after the fact, depending up the situation. The point is that feedback is a crucial piece of the puzzle. Help the presenter do better for you next time. If you leave meetings repeatedly saying “His presentations are always so boring” or “She is never prepared” the issue isn’t just theirs. It’s yours for not communicating your feedback in a constructive manner. Sometimes the listeners need to take the lead and speak up.

It takes two to tango. While you don’t want to step on the speaker’s toes, standing on the sidelines and leaving them without a dance partner serves no good purpose either. Respect your partner, practice being a good and active listener, and you may just find that you enjoy and get more out of future presentations.