The No 1 mistake people make managing difficult audience situations is to use sarcasm, put-downs and humiliation. They were the weapons of choice of the previous generation of teachers. And for most of us that’s the only model we have for how to handle difficult audience situations.

How does this show up?

The classic is when people are talking, many presenters’ instinctive response is to say “Would you like to share with the rest of the group?” A moment’s thought will reveal that this isn’t appropriate when dealing with adults.

Or if a person is falling asleep, some presenters will put them on the spot by firing a question at them.

Using the classroom model as a guide on how to handle an audience can result in the presenter being perceived as patronising and condescending or at worst humiliating a person in the audience. That can backfire on you – because the audience is likely to feel empathy for that person and become resistant to you.

Dealing with people in the audience should be no different to the way that you might deal with someone when you’re in a one-on-one or one-on-two conversation. The guiding principle is  “Treat people with respect.”

Let’s take the situation where a side conversation starts up. The most common reason for side conversations is when somebody missed what you just said – or didn’t understand it. They don’t want to miss out so they check it out with the person next to them. You probably do the same when you’re watching TV and miss something.  So in most cases, simply ignore side conversations. If they carry on for longer than a minute or so, pause …

…the people talking will hear the silence – and will return their focus to you.

If somebody is falling asleep, realise that there may be many reasons for this. They may have a new baby in the house and been up half the night. As long as its not disturbing anyone else, it’s no big deal. But if several people are looking dozy, take responsibility. Call a short break for a stretch.

There’s no need for humiliation or sarcasm. Treat people with respect and they will respect you back.


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