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Seminar Etiquette

Hey, You! Stop Sitting in the Back at Presentations

How to send the message you’re attentive and came to learn a thing or two.

By Stephanie R. Hanna

In “Five Affordable Ways to Learn More About the Law,” Megan Zavieh covered how to earn your CLE credit without maxing out your credit card. But, ultimately, getting the most value for your conference dollars depends on your behavior.

One thing is becoming more noticeable with each presentation I give or attend: A lot of attendees automatically head toward the back of the room.

It happens so much that now before I begin my presentation, I tell the people sitting in the back that I will call on them unless they move to the front. Inevitably, they move up because apparently the only thing worse than being seen at the front of the room is being asked to participate.

As a presenter, it can be a little unnerving when attendees choose to sit as far away from you as possible. But make no mistake, attendees face downsides too.

Here are things to consider the next time you walk into a room and decide where to sit.

Put Yourself in the Presenter’s Shoes

When I attend a seminar, I always try to put myself in the presenter’s shoes. This person has put time, effort and energy into preparing this presentation for us, and I want to make it easy for them to deliver the information. Incidentally, I also want to make it easy for myself to hear, see and absorb the information I came to gather. And take note: When you sit toward the front of the room, it doesn’t mean you will automatically be called on or otherwise draw unwanted attention. It means you are showing the presenter and the rest of the attendees that you are serious about being there to learn and engage.

Always Think about the Message You’re Sending

Everyone in the room notices everyone else. Always. You’d probably be surprised how often others are taking mental notes on what you’re doing in the audience (like texting, checking email, reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle). Some may go so far as to mention it to a colleague, supervisor or other connection of yours. The easiest way to prevent this is to send the message that you’re attentive, respectful and came to learn a thing or two.

Be Respectful If You Need to Step Out

I get it, stuff comes up. You might feel you need to avoid sitting near the front of the room in case you have to take a call or send an email. When you attend a seminar, the presenter and other attendees know that you are taking time away from your clients and other aspects of your life. So they understand that you might need to excuse yourself at times. If you do need to attend to a business matter and leave the room, do so quietly and quickly, handle the issue, then get back to the room. Try to distinguish what’s truly an urgent matter and don’t allow it to distract you from the entire seminar.

Think About Why You Are There

You are there to meet connections, learn something or gain some other benefit. Even if it’s a CLE seminar that you are mandated to take, you still had a choice from hundreds of program offerings, so to a certain extent, you are choosing to spend your time at this program. If you have absolutely no desire to be there? Don’t go in the first place. Choose something that will add value to your practice and professional development instead of using this time to figure out how to secretly work on something else. Plus, you never know. You might even find that you learned more than you expected.

Related: CLE: Five Affordable Ways to Learn More Law (and Earn CLE Credits) by Megan Zavieh

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Stephanie Hanna Stephanie R. Hanna

Stephanie Hanna is an attorney and people connector who knows what it takes to develop and maintain key relationships. For more than a decade, she has been coaching law students and lawyers to navigate the profession and develop their careers. Stephanie understands that only 15% of job success comes from technical skills, so she created the program “The Other 85” to help clients master the other 85%. Follow her on Instagram and LinkedIn.


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