HANDLING DIFFICULT AUDIENCES

You are giving a bang up, value filled speech and Henry in the first row blurts out “Just where do you get these ideas? They sound groundless to me”.   What do you do after recovering from your nausea?   Again this comes down to being prepared for these instances whenever you are presenting.  The first key is to know as much about your audience as you can beforehand.

What kind of a background, in general, does your audience have?  Are they a homogenous group?  Can you relate and understand your audience and their needs?  You did this before when you were preparing your talk.  The most difficult audience is one that is filled with a lot of divergent people who needs are vastly different.  This is your classic politician’s struggle.  Everybody seems to want something different.

Spiral Staircase Also its important to understand your purpose.  Do you want to persuade? Do you want to inform? Do you want the audience to take a particular action?  Do you want the audience to become your client?  to refer you? Don’t be afraid to admit exactly why you are taking the time and trouble to give this speech.  In this way, you can be more focused on what you want to accomplish and hecklers are less able to get you off the track.

Next, prepare for the hostile or just irritating participant.  Many times you will want interaction with your audience because it makes for a much more dynamic presentation.  However, when you open it up to others talking sometimes they can go on and on. Be prepared to say something like” Joe, I really like what you are saying, can you and I continue this after we are finished here?’ or “Joe, let’s give some others a chance to comment”.  Be prepared also to actually interpret Joe in his wanderings.  The audience will appreciate it.

Because you will have researched your subject well, you probably won’t have any trouble with fact based questions or comments. Sometimes these questions can seem biting or have an edge to them (especially if the person is unhappy or angry). Usually, these people can be calmed by the fact that you respond in a confident manner and accurately answer their questions.

The really hard stuff comes when you get a hostile or just plain obnoxious person.  The best place to get some clues about how to handle this kind of situation is to watch really fine politicians like Obama and Clinton  handle their audiences.  When the hostile person is clearly off the subject and can be really annoying, sometimes it is better to start off by agreeing with them on some minor point and then get back on track. The problem is that you don’t want to “sour” your audience with needless heckling and waste their time.  So you have to short circuit this time of interchange as quickly as possible.

THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO KEEP CONTROL OF THE SITUATION. Never show anger.  Never make fun of the person.  Always show confidence.  Always remember that you are there to serve and take care of the remaining audience.  They and you don’t deserve having the program disrupted.

Hopefully, this gives you some ideas about how to handle that difficult person in your audience. It is never pleasant but should be expected…..unfortunately.  And a last word about reviews and exit surveys.  Don’t let them make you never want to do another talk.  Audiences, especially attorneys,  can be very picky and when they don’t have to sign their names, they can be downright cruel.  Just remember, these are the people that are too scared to give a talk themselves and start right in preparing your next one.      Any idea what we should talk about next? Any burning problems?  Please put them in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.