Speakers are not therapists. And audiences are not there to rescued, judged or saved. I tend to give challenging people like “Know It Alls, Drama Queens and Power Players” a long rope unless the integrity or safety of the workshop is threatened. Handle each situation from the start with strong boundaries and agreements and model your expectations of the group with your own behaviour. The audience will be watching you closely to see how you handle things. There is no neat solution and “difficult” is in the eye of the beholder. Here’s how I handled 3 different situations:
Example 1: Ms Drama Queen, Victoria
During a workshop on selling from the platform, one participant came in late, took a mobile phone call when she sat down, started explaining why she was late, asked if anyone wanted a throat lozenge and even knocked over her water bottle. Throughout the workshop she kept shaking her head and sighing melodramatically with numerous toilet breaks and requests for information to be repeated. Which she then proceeded not to listen to but tried to change. I considered she was not genuinely distressed but had mistaken the workshop for her lounge room. In both breaks I asked her privately if she was ok. Her mysterious response was to nod without speaking, would not look me in the eye, turned her back and walked away. She appeared to want attention and then rejected it when it was offered, which possibly made her feel in control. My job involved a bit of damage control and to minimise distraction for the other participants. This kept the workshop flowing smoothly and our Drama Queen just added extra entertainment.
Example 2: Mr Know It All, Auckland
In a small group of 20 business owners who had come to learn about communicating with presence, one man had an answer to every question, even rhetorical ones! Soon I started saying: “Now this is just something I want you to think about silently… to yourself…” but he still felt his thoughts were worthy of sharing. Other participants were starting to sigh, eyes began to roll and bodies shifted away from him. I hadn’t shut him down immediately because his contributions were interesting and I wanted to encourage interaction… but too much from one person becomes dominating and the group can become confused as to who is the actual leader. It was me or him. When he next tried to butt in and talk over me, I gently put my hand up in a soft “stop” position, said abruptly: “One moment please” and kept my body turned to face the rest of the group. I then finished my words and directly engaged other participants to tip the balance of energy and power. After that I continued to respectfully acknowledge him in the same way I did everyone else… and he settled down with ego intact.
Example 3: Ms Power Play, Brisbane
Within a small group brainstorming session, Ms Power Play ignored my directions and took command of a group of inexperienced young people she had chosen to join. She loudly took centre stage, reassigned roles and changed the focus of the exercise. 5 other groups were working cohesively around the room with a flurry of conversation and the smell of texta pens in the air. Ms Power Play’s group however was quiet, bodies drooped, participants sat far apart and all texta pens and paper were exclusively under her control. Rather than embarrass or confront Ms Player by redirecting her in front of the others, I apologised for making a mistake. I explained that each group needed diversity in age and experience and so I had asked 2 confident and more senior participants to switch to Ms Power Play’s group and invited 2 younger ones to leave. This totally changed the dynamic, destroyed her budding power base and restored momentum to the exercise. And I’m happy to report, everyone then got a fair go with the textas.
Keep in mind that challenging people are a great learning opportunity and in the minority; perhaps 5% of any group or audience. I’ve often found the other 95% valued the presentation more because of what they learned from observing the interplay of power, drama and watching how you handled it.
This article is an excerpt from my second e-workbook, “Speak, Write & Deliver” and will be available for purchase in June via my website. It follows my first e-workbook, “Confidence & Connection for nervous speakers.” Contact me for an advance copy.
© 2013, Geraldine Barkworth, authentic public speaking coach & director of Goddess Of Public Speaking. Geraldine shows you how to feel comfortable in your own skin by being real, raw and authentic, rather than perfect, polished and “powerpointed” every time you speak. Contact Geraldine at http://www.goddessofpublicspeaking.com.au/