The Listeners’ Bill of Rights

To stop government tyranny, the nation’s founders produced a Bill of Rights.

But how do we stop the tyranny of lousy speakers?

I propose a Listeners’ Bill of Rights.

  1. The right to a point of view. Statements like this are all too common: “Well there are two sides to the issue. I’m going to lay out both sides so that you can make an informed decision.”  No! Give both sides if you must.  But tell us what you think. We’ll decide if we agree.  Don’t be a wimp.
  2. The right not to remain silent. “Question Authority” may be a slogan from the 70s. But it’s come even more alive in the age of blogs, talk radio, text messages, and Twitter. Listeners today like to talk back and kick the tires.   Leave lots of time for Q&A.
  3. The right to brevity. One study indicates that after 17 minutes, no one is paying attention.   Most business presentations can be delivered in 15 minutes, even if you leave half the time for Q&A.
  4. The right to a story.  The more personal the better. I worked with a high school senior from Brazil as he prepared to speak at his baccalaureate service. He told of immigrating to the US on his journey to become a journalist.  Even the tough guys in the audience cried. And the girls swooned.
  5. The right to a solution.  Don’t just tell me the “Recent Developments in Labor and Employment Law.” Tell me how I can be more successful using the latest law to represent my clients. I don’t come to speeches for information. I come for solutions to my life’s key challenges.
  6. The right to passion. You don’t have to be like Vince the ShamWow Guy. But do you have to be like one of those ferns that adorn the lobby of your office?  Smile!  Speak with the same passion that you use when you’re talking about UGA football.
  7. The right not to be read to. If you’re going to read your speech, just send it to me by email instead. I’ll  have my iPhone read it to me while I’m driving.   That way I don’t have to feel my life being sucked out of me in your lame meeting when instead I could be doing something important, like watching my daughter play lacrosse.
  8. The right to a simple message.  Here’s a recipe for one of the best speeches you’ll ever give. Start by saying “There are three questions I’ll bet you want to know about this topic.”  Then list the three questions and answer them. Then take questions.
  9. The right to minimal slides.  “Power Corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.” Those are the words of Edward Tufte, the graphic designer who claims that PowerPoint was partly responsible for the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster.  Tufte claimed that bullet-point laden PowerPoint slides confused a critical technical issue.  Whether you agree or not, too many complex slides confuse the audience. Keep it simple.
  10. 10.  To right to be loved. Great speakers understand that the only reason they exist is to help their listeners. So they focus every bit of energy on helping their audience with key issues and delivering messages in a way that connects.
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138 Responses to “The Listeners’ Bill of Rights”

  1. Fred E Miller Says:

    Good Post!

    Let’s add that the listeners should thank the speaker for their talk, personally if possible.

    They may not have been super speakers, but they made the effort when most people don’t.


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    What a wonderful list. I think speakers might listen but how do we get politicians to heed. And then there are lecturers. As I understand it so many young people just will not accept anything less.

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