November 14, 2013

The plate test



My husband and I have a favorite Chinese restaurant here in Santa Barbara, that we've been going to for about 24 years. I first bonded with the owner, Yvette, over our similar short haircuts. We've become friends over the years, and beyond this fact, we appreciate the tight ship that Yvette runs at her place.

For example, there's the "plate test." When Yvette walks around the restaurant, she will take a look at her customers' plates. One time (and I will emphasize that this was only one time, although not uncommon in any restaurant), there was a hair in my food. I pushed it to the side of my plate. When Yvette walked by and saw the hair, she immediately grabbed my plate and marched to the kitchen. I didn't have to say a word.

Yvette will pay attention to what we eat and how much of it we eat, and she'll notice if something is unusual or out of place. She pays attention to detail. She cares about her customers' experiences and trains her staff to pay attention as well.

Recently, we ate breakfast at a different restaurant than our usual weekend hangout. It was Sunday, we thought our regular place would be crowded, so we went elsewhere. The poached eggs and spinach on my plate had not been drained enough, and by the end of my breakfast, there was a large puddle of water on the plate. Did anyone notice? Nope. I'm not shy about telling my server if there's something wrong with the food, but most of the time, if I don't tell them, they won't notice. No one notices. Because at a lot of restaurants, no one cares.

Think about your routine as a speaker. Are you locked into a routine where you just keep doing the same thing over and over, without paying attention to how you or your material are received? Are you even aware of how your audience is reacting to you? Be honest: Do you even care? Or are you just trying to get through the presentation as quickly and painlessly as possible?

Or worse, are you so certain of your brilliance and wisdom (as are many experienced speakers), that if the audience doesn't respond, you blame them for not getting it?

Or instead, do you pay attention to the nuances of your audience's reactions and make mental notes to revise and tweak in the places where you seem to be losing them? Do you ask them questions during the presentation to make sure you're being clear and understandable? Are you aware of the energy level in the room and make adjustments when it's flagging?

Just like the plate test, paying attention to the subtle reactions and interactions with your audience will give you clues to how you're doing and will show them that you actually care about their experience.

If you really want to make an impact on your audiences, if you want them to take action, if you want results from your presentations, you'll make this a priority -- above your own ego and pride.

2 comments. Please add yours! :

Sebastián Lora said...

Great insights! Afterall, public speaking should tend to a "two-way" conversation, instead of a "one-way" monologue...

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks, Sebastián!

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