Difficult situations can and will arise throughout your presentations. There are three keys:
1. Prepare yourself, your room, your content and your audience in advance to avoid these situations.
2. Have a working understanding of the different levels of situation instigators and know how to handle each.
3. If you do have to engage a disruptive audience member, be as cordial and pleasant as possible. Do not allow an unpleasant person make you or your presentation’s experience turn unpleasant. You can’t always prevent the storm, but you can remain calm during it.
Before your program, build rapport in the room; learn names, be in the audience members’ space, ask questions, learn expectations, etc. If you sense there might be resistance in the room (or if you have been told directly), plan accordingly. If it is one or two people, approach them before the program and discuss options. If it is a large portion of the group, build strategies into your presentation to deal with that reality: use inclusive language, speak to the facts, stand your ground, respect other opinions, don’t pass the buck, be cordial, etc.
The Passive Dissenter
The Passive Dissenter does not mean harm. Their behavior is disruptive, but they are not intentionally trying to hurt your presentation. They are more than likely simply unfocused or distracted and need to be more directly engaged in the program. Catch them at break or when the big group’s attention is on something else and point out how their behavior is disruptive. Ask them how they could adjust their behavior to better fit the needs of the group (let them come up with the solution first.) Give them a purposeful, if even passive, responsibility. Ask them to be a small group discussion leader, help with a small logistical item, think about some new ideas for the current discussion, etc.
The Aggressive Dissenter
The Aggressive Dissenter is looking to be disruptive, but not because of you. Their dissention is an outward expression of some inner strife: personal, professional, emotional, social, etc. There is a possibility they can be brought back. When you have a break, approach them one‐on‐one and in private and bring the results of their behavior to their attention. Ask them if they are willing and able to set their personal agenda aside for the betterment of the group. They also need a diversion to get their thinking and emotions back with the group. Let them know you are interested in them, but will not sacrifice the goals of the presentation or the interests and safety of the group.
The Aggressive Combative
The Aggressive Combative is out to get you; either because of you personally or because you happen to represent the focus of their aggression. They need to be dismissed as soon as possible. If you can, have someone else in an authoritative position do this for you and then move on. If not, then handle it yourself cordially at first, then aggressively if you must. Never physically though. Always leave a safe zone between you and the Aggressive Combative.
The BIG IDEA driving all of these strategies is control. Once you lose control or are perceived as losing control, you lose your audience’s trust. Once that is gone, everything is gone.