Newman's Notions | July 26, 2023 | FREE
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Audience archetypes

Two frequent conference speakers offer their taxonomy of attendees.

We two authors have over 50 years of experience providing continuing medical education, as speakers and as course directors, from large lecture halls to small simulation rooms. We love our learners, whether they are new students or near retirement. Understanding your audience is the key to success (along with awesome content, great speakers, lots of yummy snacks, and a super location), and we have noticed some audience archetypes over the years. Here are some of our favorites.

Illustration by David Rosenman
Illustration by David Rosenman

The Underliner: The Underliner is a very welcome sight at any meeting. You can tell they are paying close attention. They are always happier with a paper syllabus and they have four colors of highlighters stacked neatly in a row. Generally, they prefer the third-row center seat. The evolution to online syllabi has been a challenge, but they are up to it, yellow highlighter in hand!

The Dusty Graper (See Newman's Notions, November 2014): No matter how good the course, there is always someone who can find a small fault, usually with the food items. In general, they keep you on your toes and help you make the course better. And our full-time grape duster benefits from the employment!

The Front Rower: They've been in the front row since college. It's the only way they like to learn. For presenters, they are a great gauge of whether you are hitting your edutainment mark or are waxing soporific. It's awesome to have a front-row attendee who laughs at all your jokes, pays close attention to everything, nods at the right times, and claps loudly at the end of your talk. (Unfortunately, your mom can't always make it to the conference.)

The Back-of-the-Room-End-of-the-Rower: Now you see them, now you don't. They are positioned for easy access to the exits.

The Knitter: Some people can't help but multitask. We've seen a few knitters over the years, but nobody has given either of us a scarf. We have seen doodlers, scrapbookers, watercolorists, but as of yet no potters, though with live virtual conferences, it's almost guaranteed that there's one out there somewhere.

The Human Question Mark: After every presentation, they are first up to the microphone, and then they approach the speaker at the podium immediately after the talk. It can be overwhelming, but it's greatly appreciated in situations when questions are elicited and nobody else has one, thus avoiding that awkward “Questions? Questions? Bueller?”

The Family-Feeder: We both readily admit to being this person, who shows up at the conference breakfast and walks off with three plates of food, sometimes never to return. Anyone who has arrived in their hotel room with piles of fruit and muffins and become a hero to their hungry children knows that this form of education is worthwhile.

The Goldilockser: The room is either too cold or too hot. Rarely is it just right. You have to “bear” with them.

The Pen Grabber: Whether it's a CME pen or a pad, they load up. In days gone by when pharma reps offered tables full of candy, toys, and gadgets, they might show up at a conference with a suitcase. (In fact, once, at a dermatology conference, one of us actually was offered a new suitcase to haul off sample skin products!)

The Empty Seater: Significant overlap with the family-feeder. They take a prime spot, set up their stuff, and don't return for hours, if at all.