How to Handle a Difficult Audience

Giving a presentation can be stressful enough without having to deal with a difficult audience.  That said if you are a speaker who does not have the support of your audience, you are probably willing to do whatever it takes to win them over.  While it is your opportunity to showcase your skills, you might be sidetracked by a jokester, loud-mouth, non-participants, or side-conversationalists. Whatever the reason, we have all experienced those audience members who feel the need to draw attention to themselves are detract from a great presentation.  Here a few tips that can help you maintain control the next time you deliver a presentation to a difficult audience.

Greet and Acknowledge Your Audience

The best way to won over your audience is to take time to greet them before you even begin.  Make sure your presentation is completely set up about 15-20 minutes before you are set to begin.  As people come in, greet them and introduce yourself if they do not know you.  When you take the time to welcome your audience, you will build a few allies in case the difficult audience member decides to emerge.

Establish Some Ground Rules

Before you begin your presentation it can helpful to set a few ground rules.  For example, you might want to ask audience members to turn their cellphones off.  You can also let the audience know that you will be taking questions at a later time, so please hold all questions until the end of the presentation.  Establishing these rules lets the audience know you are in charge and will hopefully deter some of the most distracting behaviors.

Take a Humorous Approach

Sometimes during a presentation an audience member might feel the need to act as “the expert” on the topic.  They might comment or elaborate on just about everything you say.  Rather than getting defensive, try handling this situation with a little bit of humor.  You might say something like “Wow, I didn’t know that. I appreciate your comment.”  If the behavior continues you can say, “Well you have so much expertise on the topic I should just trade seats with you.”  This allows you to calmly handle the situation so you can get right back on track.  This same technique works well the “jokester.”  For the audience member who keeps cracking the jokes you could say, “You are really stealing my show and if I don’t get through my presentation we will all have to come back for a repeat performance…does Saturday work for you?”

Ignore Bad Attitudes

We have seen the participant who for whatever reason has a hardened attitude.  They are sitting with their arms and legs crossed and their head down.  They are clearly exhibiting an “I don’t care” attitude.  The best way to handle this type of audience member is to simply ignore them.  You are only presenting for a short time and will not be able to change their attitude so there is no point in trying.  The goal of your presentation needs to be to do the best you can with the majority of your audience.

Try a Little Silence

As irritating as it may be, there will always be those audience members who cannot keep their mouths closed.  These side-conversationalists do not respect your hard work and continue to talk throughout your presentation. One of the best ways to handle this is to stop briefly and take a moment to scan your notes or the audience.  Oftentimes, that momentary silence is enough to alert those people to stop talking.

Stay Focused

No matter how difficult your audience may be, it is important to stay focused on your material and what you came to present.  Do not get hooked by your audience and allow them to distract you from your presentation.  Instead, remain cool, calm, and confident and you are sure to deliver a polished presentation.