Category: Content

We frequently work with professionals who present in teams. Many ask “What should I do while I’m not speaking?” The answer is simple: be a model!

In other words, during the time when you’re not speaking, your job is to model what you want the audience to do. That means staying engaged with the speaker by looking at them, nodding when they make a good point, even smiling during those lighthearted moments. This is much more important than most people realize.

Create an Information Cascade

In their book “Networks, Crowds, and Markets: Reasoning About a Highly Connected World”, David Easley and Jon Kleinberg discuss the concept of “information cascades.” These occur when people abandon their own notions based on what they infer from other people’s actions.

They site the famous study from the 1960s that tested social conformity by having people stand on a busy street corner and look up. Over time, more and more passersby stopped to look up as well, even though there was nothing to look it. But Easley and Kleinberg posit that this wasn’t an exercise in mindless social conformity. Rather, these passersby inferred that the people already on the corner looking up must see something worth looking at, and therefore they should stop and look up too.

In much the same way, if an audience member “checks out” for some reason, but sees the speaker’s teammates intently focused on what the speaker is saying, that person will likely infer that something important is being said, and their attention will refocus on the speaker.

Conversely, if they see the speaker’s teammates are “checked out” as well, this will simply confirm their notion, and they’ll likely stay disengaged.

Seem Like a Team

In a presentation, clients often say they want to select the best team. Typically they just mean the team that seems to really know each other, like each other, and will be great to work with.

By staying engaged with the speaker throughout their portion of the presentation, teammates can solidify this sense of a being a great team.

On the other hand, if the speaker’s teammates are typing on their cell phones, having sidebar conversation, or just letting their eyes wander around the room, it conveys disinterest, disconnect, or even disrespect: not exactly the foundations of a “great team.”

So the next time you’re part of a presentation team and it’s not your time to speak, remember to be a model! You’ll be helping your audience and your team.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, or on the web at

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