Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Dealing with a Chatty Audience

Have you ever faced an overly chatty audience? They’re not being rude per se, but once they get talking during an exercise or a Q&A, it’s hard to shut them up. How do you maintain control without alienating the people you’re talking to?

Yesterday, I got an email from a woman who speaks nationally as a nutrition expert. Her speeches are well received and her audiences like her, but she always runs into trouble during the “did-you-know-how-many-calories-and-fat-grams-there-are-in-some-of-your-favorite-fast-food” section of her program Is it just me, or does everyone today have a fast food calories and fat grams segment?

Without fail, when she “weighs” in on the fast food statistics the audience members begin to talk among themselves. Apparently they’re so amazed by some of these numbers that they can’t help discussing it with their neighbor. She doesn’t want to play the “heavy,” but if she lets them chatter away she won’t have enough time to finish her speech.

So how do you deal with a chatty audience while keeping them on your side?

Here are three ideas to consider and I would love to more from all you fine people out there (see below).

1. Prepare them. As you introduce a “discussion-inducing” portion of your program, warn the audience that they’ll be tempted to discuss it with the folks around them. However, you want to honor their time and keep the presentation on track. (Remember, no one ever wants a presentation to go over the allotted time.) This won’t eliminate the problem completely, but you’ll be clearly establishing your expectations for the audience up front. The easiest way to maintain your leadership position from the platform is by setting your expectations in advance, then your audience will be more likely to follow you. It’s the old adage leave-nothing-up-to-chance approach.

2. Give in. If they’re going to chat about the subject no matter what, go ahead and let them. Set aside 2-5 minutes for the audience to talk amongst themselves. This must be what schoolteachers face during the first snowfall of the year. I say let the students “ooh” and “aah” at the window for a few minutes to satisfy some of their natural curiosity. Then, once they’ve got it out of their system, they’ll be more willing to go back to their desks to continue with their schoolwork.

3. Snap ‘em out of it. Buy a hotel bellhop / lunch counter bell, place it on the lectern and “ding” it several times in rapid succession. These bells make a fun (non-threatening) sound that quickly gets everyone’s attention. The instant the room goes silent after hearing the bell, jump in and say whatever you need to keep them on track.

Time to Hit Your Stride

Your Turn #1: How do you deal with chatty audiences?

Your Turn #2: What have you seen other speakers do when faced with a loquacious bunch?

Happy speaking,

Steve Hughes
Speaker – Trainer – Occasional Close Talker

No comments: