A recent post by Brad Phillips on “controlling dominant audience members” recently caught my eye. Here’s what he said:
I recently conducted a presentation training workshop with five trainees.
After every point I made, one of the trainees—let’s call him Peter—would interject with a story, question, or opinion. At first, I welcomed his participation—his interjections were on topic and he had smart things to say. But he had far more of them than were appropriate to the format, and it quickly became clear that Peter was disrupting the flow of the session.
Worse, I watched as the other trainees started to disengage. It was easy to appreciate why they were getting the feeling that our training session was going to become a long day.
I tried to manage the dominant participant in a variety of ways—by (politely) cutting off his comments before they were finished, using body language cues to try to slow him down, and saying that our schedule was slipping and we’d need to hold questions until the end of the current section to catch up.
…In these situations, the session leader needs to take a heavier hand. The other attendees want you to exercise your authority—and if you don’t, they may hold it against you. The key is to exercise that authority politely, if firmly, without ever disrespecting the audience member.
Option One: Shut The Questioner Down
The next time the participant begins talking again, you could jump in and say:
“I’m going to ask you to hold on for a moment, Peter, because I’d like to get a few new voices in here. What do you think, Paul?”
You can continue to do that numerous times until Peter (hopefully) gets the message, perhaps allowing him to make his point on occasion so you’re not shutting him down 100 percent of the time.
Option Two: Enlist The Participant As Your Ally
Another option I’ve used in the past is to compliment the participant during a break—but in such a manner that helps you achieve your purpose.
“You know, Peter, you’ve been great about participating in this session. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been having a tough time drawing out the other participants. Could you help me after the break? If we allow there to be silence in the room after I ask a question, one of them might feel compelled to speak up.”
Good ideas, but what if your “interrupter ” is more aggressive….and abrasive, than is appropriate? Here’s a selection of techniques for handling hecklers. You may feel more comfortable using some than others, or you may want to try a combination of several:
- Silence: Don’t underestimate the power of the pause. Sometimes the simplest solution is the most effective. If you stop speaking and stare at the heckler, everyone else will turn to see what you are looking at. Most of the time, this kind of social embarrassment is effective in quieting a heckler.
- Associate Your Response To The Event: You can remind people why they are spending their time with you…by referencing the event you and the audience are there to support or inform/learn about. For example, if you were speaking at an M. S. fundraiser, and started to have problems with a heckler, you could say something directly to the disturber like “Do you have a new cure for M.S.? If not, perhaps you could let me finish my remarks? “
- Draft the Heckler Onto your Team: You can make an unexpected interruption seem to be a planned by pausing after the interjected comment and thanking your “scriptwriter/copywriter/joke writer”….etc., The audience will laugh with you, the heckler will feel complimented, and you can hopefully proceed uninterrupted.
- Hand Over The Mike: You can grab your portable mike, approach the heckler and offer the interrupter the mike. Most of the time such people are embarrassed and will decline the offer. They will hopefully get the point that this presentation is not all about them and relinquish the focus back to you.
- Think Outside The Room: Compulsive talkers, such as loud groups at the back of the room, can resist all efforts on your part to overcome them. You can try moving out into the center of the audience to deliver your speech “in the round, ” or you can have those who are actually paying attention to you move their chairs in order to be closer to you.
Do you have other effective tips for getting audience members to “stop rocking the boat” when you are presenting? Please share them with us!