PRESENTATIONS GONE WRONG
Yesterday, I had a nightmare that answered my question of what to write to you this week. Clearly my sub-conscious has been working overtime.
In my dream I was facilitating the worst workshop you could ever imagine and, although I knew how the problems should be solved, I was panicked and couldn’t implement them until I had calmed down. In this there are lessons for you. Here are the highlights, or should I say, low lights of the dream.
- A Disinterested Audience – There were people in the room who were busy with other things like talking on their phones or reading documents while I was speaking. They were completely ignoring me and apparently oblivious to the fact that they were disrupting the session. This happens in real life too. So how do you handle a situation like this?
To start with, acknowledge to yourself that this behaviour is rude and unacceptable, but do not be offended by it. Solve your problem in three steps. First ask yourself if there is something that you are doing that is boring them. Are you droning on? Are you going in to too much detail? Are you talking nonsense? If their disengagement is related to something you are doing, change.
Secondly, identify the unacceptable behaviour and manage it. It is ok to ask someone to take calls during the break or after the meeting. Do it in a friendly, respectful manner that will not offend the other people in the room. I’m afraid I can’t guarantee that the person on the phone won’t be offended.
Lastly, if the behaviour involves more than one person and continues for more than a brief moment, pause your presentation and offer them the option to excuse themselves from the room. I have used statements like, “I’m sorry to interrupt, but I see you have some urgent business to attend to. It’s ok if you would like to excuse yourselves, I can catch you up in the break.” Usually one of two things happens, they stop the discussion and rejoin the session or they excuse themselves and leave the room. Either way you regain your audience’s attention.
- Disruptive Interruptions – In my dream the interruption came from outside, a riotous crowd swept into the room. This is extreme, but it has happened that I have been called to give a presentation in an office where the session is constantly being interrupted by people calling members of the audience out of the room.
There are various reasons why this happens, but it should be the exception rather than the rule. The best way to manage this is to stick to your time frames. Make your audience aware of how long you will need their attention for and stick a sign on the door if necessary. People will generally interrupt if they don’t know when the person they want to speak to will be available. Set your time-frame and make your audience aware of it. It is reasonable to expect them to respect it, if you respect their time too.
I have from time to time had to pause mid-sentence and ask if the business can be handled after the session, but generally, people manage the situation themselves if they know what is expected of them. I try to lead a session with respect rather than an iron fist.
- No Water – This was the worst! I was so thirsty that my tongue was swollen, and my mouth kept sticking closed and I couldn’t think straight. My words wouldn’t come out properly. It’s a horrible feeling!
The solution to this is easy, make sure you have some water available when you stand up to speak. Preferably in a glass, because it is more elegant and easier to sip from a cup than swig from a bottle, but as long as you stay hydrated, your words shouldn’t get stuck in your mouth.
- Out of control Audience Participation – The last part of my dream was a problem with the audience members who wanted to say something. I always like to hear from my audience, but it can get away from you.
In my dream, I let an audience member come up to the front, at which point she proceeded to go on and on. I could see the audience getting bored and I was starting to run out of time to present what I had to say. (I dealt with this problem of presentation hijacking earlier this year.)
The quick solution to all of this is to let your audience speak, but do not invite them to stand in your place. If you do invite them up to the front, for example when they need to write on the white board, decide how much time you are going to allow them to speak and do not be afraid to interrupt them and gently regain control of the session before it gets away from you.
As I eventually drifted towards wakefulness, my dream took an unexpected turn, I remembered all the things that I was supposed to be doing and I regained control of the situation. I asked the disruptors to leave, I closed the doors behind them so that we would not be interrupted by the people outside. I refocused on my now much smaller audience and I got some water from one of them. The situation resolved and calm was restored. The audience that remained, were interested and engaged and a kind of camaraderie was developed because they had helped me slake my thirst.
As Shakespeare said, “All is well, that ends well”, but it was still a horrible dream. I hope my telling it to you will help you avoid some real-life pain in the future.
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