Public speakers work with an audience. It is the nature of our work, and it is with and for the people in the audience that we work. The audience is the most important factor in our work, and we love working with them. However, sometimes audiences do not work well with us. Sometimes we have people in the audience causing trouble. Sometimes we have to deal with an annoying audience member, a person asking irrelevant or contentious questions during our engagements, a person who is just being annoying to be annoying.
Though the majority of audience participants will always invest their full attention and ask questions that help, though the majority are interested in your expertise, there might be one or two in the group that are not. There will always be those few who dilute the concentration of both the speaker and the audience with their obnoxiousness. It can be difficult for speakers and audiences alike to deal with this situations.
So, what can we do? How do we deal with an annoying audience member? As the speaker, it is our responsibility to diffuse tension by quickly analyzing the nature of the participant and resolving issues with good grace.
Let’s take a look at some stereotypes of audience members who might create problems:
- Marty the Monopolist
- Sheila the Show-Off
- Carly the Clown
- Ellen the Experienced
- Mr. Drew Doubtful
Dealing with tough participants can be as tough as it sounds. From the speaker’s standpoint, it can be very disturbing for the flow of the engagement when an audience member asks a question to show-off or to detract from your work. Beware that these participants might actually be competitors attempting to bring your show down. Be tactful and prepared, and you’ll have all the tools to keep your show strong.
- Try to answer all questions from annoying participants, especially if you feel your answers will add value.
- Answer questions if you can, and never suggest that a question is too vague or unanswerable. The participant might be annoying, but his comments have merit, as well.
- Admit when you cannot answer a question. Politely say, “That is a good question, but I don’t know if I can answer it right now. I will see if I can find the right answer and will get back to you!”
- Try opening up questions to other participants and see if the question can solve itself among your audience members.
- Fully listen to participants, and be patient through their long-windedness. Answer only after you have heard it all. They deserve your patience and attention, but do your best to keep the conference moving along at a good pace. If you have to, politely point out that you are running low on time and that you can discuss the question further via email or phone after the seminar.
- Suggest that a disgruntled participant contact you after the conference to avoid delay, particularly if comments continue and have little value for your agenda.
- Encourage positivity, particularly if the tough audience member is expressing negativity. Keep the whole experience strong and positive.
- Bring out some quieter participants. Acknowledge helpful audience members. These people might help you to overcome tough situations. The audience is part of the team in the space of the conference, and the entire team can support you if you are doing a great presentation.
- Do your homework. Research and brainstorm ways to deal with such obnoxious interruptions, and rehearse your strategies diligently.
- Don’t panic or lose your temper. You are in control of your work and your engagement!