How To Control A Dominant Audience Member
I recently conducted a presentation training workshop with five trainees.
After every point I made, one of the trainees—let’s call him Peter—would interject with a story, question, or opinion. At first, I welcomed his participation—his interjections were on topic and he had smart things to say. But he had far more of them than were appropriate to the format, and it quickly became clear that Peter was disrupting the flow of the session.
Worse, I watched as the other trainees started to disengage. It was easy to appreciate why they were getting the feeling that our training session was going to become a long day.
I tried to manage the dominant participant in a variety of ways—by (politely) cutting off his comments before they were finished, using body language cues to try to slow him down, and saying that our schedule was slipping and we’d need to hold questions until the end of the current section to catch up.
It would be easy to attribute Peter’s actions to his ego or desire to hear himself speak; those two reasons certainly apply in many situations. But in this case, I chalked Peter’s behavior up to a lack of self-awareness (which may be the toughest situation to manage).
In these situations, the session leader needs to take a heavier hand. The other attendees want you to exercise your authority—and if you don’t, they may hold it against you. The key is to exercise that authority politely, if firmly, without ever disrespecting the audience member.
Option One: Shut The Questioner Down
The next time the participant begins talking again, you could jump in and say:
“I’m going to ask you to hold on for a moment, Peter, because I’d like to get a few new voices in here. What do you think, Paul?”
You can continue to do that numerous times until Peter (hopefully) gets the message, perhaps allowing him to make his point on occasion so you’re not shutting him down 100 percent of the time.
Option Two: Enlist The Participant As Your Ally
Another option I’ve used in the past is to compliment the participant during a break—but in such a manner that helps you achieve your purpose.
“You know, Peter, you’ve been great about participating in this session. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been having a tough time drawing out the other participants. Could you help me after the break? If we allow there to be silence in the room after I ask a question, one of them might feel compelled to speak up.”
What tricks and techniques have you used to control the “Peters” in your audience? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Thanks Brad. Like your option 2 approach the best, but could see myself moving to using option 1 if his self-awareness doesn’t extend to managing letting others have a go.
I think Option 1 is the best. It’s harder to do, but it’s important both for you to keep on track and for the other participants. There’s nothing worse than somebody who monopolizes a session like that.
I host/present at several public meetings a year, many of which are with somewhat hostile crowds. I run into this problem a lot and find that Option 1 works best for me.
In public meetings, participants want to be informed but, most importantly, they want to be heard. If one person in the room completely dominates the proceedings, the group as a whole ends up feeling they are not being heard. For a public meeting, that’s a fundamental failure. Since it’s my meeting, it’s my failure.
The overbearing participant actually gives you an opportunity to support the other people in the room in their desire to be heard. When I use Option 1, they appreciate the support and that “he’s on our side” moment can attach itself to the rest of the proceedings.
You have to use Option 1 on a minor follow-up point or question; you can’t shut the person down on a main question or else the crowd will feel you are dodging an important issue. If the person is overbearing, don’t worry. They are guaranteed to give you an opportunity.
I feel it also shouldn’t be a total shutout. I believe you should return to the overbearing person after establishing control because, after all, he/she is a participant. If the person starts up again, I find it’s much easier to regain control because you’ve established it the first time around.
I think it depends in part on the relationship the troublemaker has with the other participants. If he/she is a peer, then option 1 is the best, IMHO. If he/she is a supervisor or otherwise higher in the pecking order, then I’d suggest option 2.
Option 2 I like best, but you have to gauge the personality of the participant to see which would work most effectively. This puts me in mind of a lecture audience when our senior citizens want to enthrall everyone with their experience and belabor their points. #2 is kinder.
Some people love being in a group, usurping some of the attention intended for a speaker. It’s so important for these folks to listen, otherwise they miss so much of what the speaker wants to impart and so does everyone else.
Great comments on this post so far, everyone. Thank you for leaving your thoughts — they’re all spot on. I’ll promote your comments on social so people read them.
I like Option 1, and if you use it, you win the undying relief of the other audience members who don’t want to hear from Peter again!
I’ve also learned from teachers to go stand next to Peter, and look out from him, to others. He may feel validated by your physical presence, and less “needy.”
Definetively # 1. This kind of person is not always so perceptive about other’s needs, and frequently you cannot have a break t speak privately with him.
So, wat I have used is blunt frankness: “Ok Peter, now let´s hear some other views, otherwise someone could say we never let them express themselves.”
Of course, the real problem would be that nobody else, apart from Peter, wish to talk. In that case Peter will have the party for himself
Dogs snarl at each other when they are eye-to-eye.
You acknowledge the commenter, answer or decline to, move away to the other sided of the stage or at last shift your body toward the other side of the room, and immediately make a new point or call on a new person for their thoughts.
If the ugly audience member tries to interject: “Hang on. You’ve had a fair go. It’s time for others to give their views.”
Next option is to go back to the powerpoints and low lights.
And finally. Never forget: Sam Colt made all men equal