Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at www.news-sentinel.com.
Q.: Karen, I do a lot of training for professional people and am often appalled by the lack of courtesy toward the speaker. I wonder if those in attendance think we can't see them checking messages on their phones under the table or chatting with those next to them. It can be very disheartening and, I think, inconsiderate when people in the audience don't give a speaker their undivided attention. Do you agree?
A.: Yes, I absolutely agree. If people didn't learn this as children in school or from their parents, it's not too late to learn it now and change their behavior. When someone has the floor, that person deserves the undivided attention of those in the audience. Even if you don't agree with what they are saying, they deserve that courtesy. And if you are bored with their topic, just be still and quiet.
There are certain courtesies that should be observed anytime you are in a situation where someone else is speaking, presenting or performing. Here is my list of things to do.
•Do arrive in plenty of time to get situated and comfortable before the speaker begins.
•Do fill in from the front of the room and sit next to someone you don't know. Some situations can be networking opportunities.
•Do let the speaker know (if possible) if you have to leave before he or she is finished so it doesn't appear you are walking out. And if you do leave early, consider leaving during one of the breaks so as not to cause a distraction for others.
•Do give them your undivided attention. Silence your mobile devices and try to check messages and email during breaks. Speakers can see you checking messages, and it can be distracting and perceived as disinterest. And it is rude!
•Do try to take care of any necessities during the scheduled breaks and before sitting down for any meal that may be included in the day. Of course, emergencies are excluded.
•Do ask questions if you are invited to do so. The interaction is encouraging. Speakers learn from your questions, too.
•Do be respectful and don't try to show up the speaker. Nothing is worse than having a show-off or an argumentative person in the audience. And don't chitchat with the person next to you.
•Do be careful not to monopolize the speaker with your questions during a session. Consider talking to the speaker after the session if you can.
•Do thank the speaker at the end of the presentation if you have the opportunity. Speakers like to know you appreciated their time and expertise.
•Do keep an open mind. Most of us can learn some tidbit that will be of benefit, even if we feel we know the subject matter well.
•Do let your boss know you appreciated that your attendance fee was paid. Not all companies are willing to pay for ongoing training.
So, the next time you are in an audience, be attentive to the messages you may be sending the speaker. You might be surprised. Or go up in front and take a look at what speakers see.
Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email email@example.com, and we’ll forward it to her.