Generally, audiences are great – they want to listen and learn. They want you to do well and they are on your side. If you in control and confident, so are they. Saying that, sometimes, we get that odd person in the audience and they are just a pain in the ass! So how to we deal with that difficult audience member? I get asked this question from my clients so from time to time, so here are some strategies!

Here are some ideas that will help you keep control and credibility.

Mr or Mrs “I love to talk”. So what do you do?

  • You can take their question or comment from this difficult audience member, thank them for their input, and move on
  • If they keep talking, focus in a point they are making.  Interrupt by saying “just on the point of …..” and then once you have broken their flow, you can take back control
  • Ask them, that due to time constraints, to please hold comments and questions till the end
  • Tell them that to be fair to everyone in the audience and allow the opportunity for everyone to ask a question, please limit questions to one per person
  • If they persist to put their hand up or try and interrupt, ignore them.  You are in control of the presentation.  You can choose not to keep stopping to take their comment or questions
  • Do not appear rude.  Acknowledge them by saying that you see they are trying to get in again, but that you will come back to them at the end

The Cynic – What to do?

  • Stay calm! You could end up alienating yourself from your entire audience if you get aggressive or negative with this difficult audience member.
  • Allow them to have their say…to a certain degree, because once they have said their piece, they might just leave it at that.  If you gag them immediately, they will persist throughout the presentation to be cynical and try to interrupt you.
  • There may be an occasion where there is merit in what they are saying.  You can acknowledge, without agreeing with them. For example; “Tom, I understand why you feel the change is unnecessary and that you have been through two change programmes before”.   That answer does not imply that you agree with him, it does acknowledge and validate his experience though
  • Ask the cynic to be specific.  Often they will throw in a comment to distract you or the audience.  If you can ask them to be more specific, to give an example of what they mean, often times, there is little or no substance to their interruptions and they back down
  • If they are taking the presentation off the point, you will have to restate the purpose and objectives of your presentation
  • Never criticise anyone personally

or see how Jimmy Carr deals with some difficult audience members! (beware bad language warning ahead!)

The Whisperers – What to do?

  • You should try and establish first off if they are lost or maybe they just missed, didn’t hear, or didn’t understand what you said.  If they are not too much of a distraction initially, let it go!
  • Good eye contact tends to deter
  • If whispering continues, look in the direction of the whispers and focus your voice directly at them.  Not only will you be looking in their direction, but soon the rest of your audience will be looking to see what you are looking at
  • If it still continues, you can stop, look in their direction and say “I just want to ensure that everyone is clear with what I’m talking about.  I’m sorry; I hope I haven’t lost you both.  Is there something I can clarify for you?”

Now this guy is a really annoying and difficult audience member! what would you have done? I’d have used that conducting stick for sure!!

Good luck, and if nothing else TAKE A PAUSE AND TAKE A BREATH!!



ConfidentSpeak is a specialist S.T.E.M Communications & Coaching Consultancy based in Dublin, Ireland. We work with leading Irish and international companies and executives at home and abroad. Contact us for details on our range of  corporate/private programmes for executives, sales teams and technical professionals.

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