- Don’t hold side conversations during the panel/discussion/presentation. I know we all have something to say and sometimes you just can’t help but comment on how distracting some panelist’s hat is or something. But talking at normal volume or in a stage whisper while in the audience is both distracting to the panelists (trust me, we can hear you) and disrespectful for other audience members, who might not be able to hear over your chatter.
- Silence your cell phones. This actually goes for people on the panel, too. There’s nothing as distracting as a phone going off in the middle of a discussion! If you absolutely have to get notifications or something (I know there are situations where this happens), put it on vibrate/silent and hold it in your lap if you need to, but please turn the ringer off.
- If you’re coming in late or leaving early, don’t make a big deal of it. Try not to let the door slam. Don’t have a conversation with your buddy in the next row while you’re leaving. If you know you’ll have to leave early, try and sit on the edge of a row so you don’t have to disturb others while you’re getting out.
- Let other audience members speak. This panel isn’t about you--it’s about the panelists and the information they have to share. Other people in the audience will probably have questions and comments they want to say, too, so let them have a chance.
- Try to keep your questions/comments relevant to the panel topic and on the broader side. I get irritated when audience members start asking specific “this is exactly what I’m doing, can you give me individualized advice?” type questions in the middle of the panel. I understand the impulse, but giving you specific advice often derails the panel discussion and isn’t helpful or interesting for other people in the audience. Most panelists will be more than happy to discuss your specific question or concern afterward, as long as they have the time (since a lot of us are on multiple panels, sometimes back-to-back). This includes keeping personal stories and long background setups to a minimum--most questions don’t actually require as much context as we think they do, and if more context is needed, panelists will ask for it.
- Don’t interrupt other people. There’s a tendency for some people to interrupt either panelists or other audience members because they’re so eager to say what they want to say. Honestly, these tend to be a lot of the same people who are guilty of violating point number five. Panelists will get to your question or comment as soon as they can, if there’s time. If there’s no time left and your comment is important to you, feel free to try and talk to the panelist(s) afterward (again, if we have time to stick around).
- If you know the topic of a panel makes you uncomfortable/angry/etc., please don’t go to it just to argue about it. Other people are going to that panel because they’re interested in the topic. Especially if the panel is something regarding representation, diversity, or other more sensitive topics, having someone come in to argue about it can be extremely hurtful for other audience members, or panelists. If you want to go to something that makes you uncomfortable in order to learn, good on you--just be aware that doing so and then expressing that discomfort with anger or frustration could be hurting the people around you, who might already experience those volatile emotions aimed in their direction on a regular basis.
Basically, it boils down to remembering that you are not the only person in the panel. Everyone’s there because they’re interested in the topic and trying to make the discussion all about you by chatting during the presentation or asking very specific, rambling questions makes the experience less fun for everyone.