Handling Difficult Audiences
Posted July 12, 2011on:
You’ve prepared, you’ve practiced, and you’re rearing to go. Pumped with adrenaline and ready to take on all challengers, you walk into the arena where you’re met with an angry,hostile, resentful audience.
Whether you’re speaking to an assembly of 1 or 1,000 managing your listener’s negativity is paramount if you’re to communicate successfully. Panicking will get you nowhere. By applying the 3-D principle: Depersonalise,Detach, and Defuse you’ll increase your confidence and come off looking like a star.
- Depersonalise People carry their own agenda and personal baggage. Someone’s response to you may have nothing to do with you personally. For example, a client was struggling with a member of her staff, who was named Donna. It turned out that the client’s husband had recently left her for another woman, whose name was also Donna. The problem wasn’t the staff member’s capability or competency, it was her name. Lesson learned? Don’t take it personally.
Contain your feelings, expunge your ego, and distance yourself from the emotion. Engaging with the attacker sets up a
competitive dynamic in which one wins and the other loses. By remaining open and asking questions for gaining clarity you’ll neutralise the situation.
- Defuse A bit of appropriate humour goes a long way in defusing negative energy. If your tension rises and you respond defensively, the negativity will increase. Remember: Respond to the situation; don’t react to the person.
Knowing What Triggers Your Reactions
There are people in this world who just annoy you and you don’t know why. By investing time to recognise who and what sets you off you’ll increase your ability to handle whatever negativity gets thrown your way. Below are different types you might recognise as Triggers:
- The Know-It-All: This person has an answer for everything and wants to actively participate in your life. Acknowledge the positive
contribution the person makes, and that you will consider their input. You do not promise to act on their suggestions, just to consider them
- The Fault Finder: Whines and complains about everything and comes up with no solutions. This person takes pleasure in complaining. No matter what you say, they’ll respond with, “Yes, but…” Tell them that you are looking for solutions, not further problems, and that you would appreciate their suggestions.
- The Expert Challenger: These people need to be recognised for their expertise. Acknowledge their contributions and remain open to their input. By inviting and acknowledging the challenger’s expertise you’ll build rapport and create an ally.
- The Wanderer: This person immerses himself in the minutiae of the detail when a quick answer is all that’s required. To stop
them from droning on, cut in, summarise what they’ve said and thank them for their contribution.
- The Loser: This person never admits to being wrong or making a mistake. With low self-esteem, this person can only make himself feel better by making other people wrong. Let them save face by agreeing to disagree.
- The Controller: Dominance is paramount to this person. Able to intimidate others by monopolising a conversation or activity, you can control them by asking for others to respond. If the person continues to dominate the conversation/meeting/event take a break, and have a quiet word with them.
- The Talkers: No matter how good you are at connecting with an audience, there will be times when two or more people will engage in conversation during your presentation. If it’s a large audience, ignore the disruption. If they’re distracting the people near them, they’ll soon be told. If it happens in a smaller group, you’ll have to manage the distraction. You can do this is the following ways:
- Make eye contact and stop speaking until they look at you.
- Ask them directly to hold their conversation until the break.
- Walk toward them, stop in front of them, and keep talking.
- The Hecklers: Ignore them and continue as you planned. If you don’t respond to them, they’ll soon give up. If they continue, ask their name and what organisation they represent. This usually works because hecklers want to remain anonymous.
The point to remember about difficult audiences is that when someone is acting disruptively, it’s more often than not about something other than you. The person is suffering from an unmet need. Whether it’s the loser needing to be right, the complainer needing to be comforted, or the controller needing to dominate, by depersonalising, detaching, and defusing, you’ll remain in control and the other person’s negative behaviour might even disappear.
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