Wednesday, October 26 , 2016, 2:22 am | Fog/Mist 57º


John Daly: When an Audience Isn’t Engaged

It has been a busy conference. The participants are close-knit professionals and love to share their ideas and enthusiasm. They are gathered together in a large meeting room to listen to a colleague who is not a professional speaker.

At the onset, instead of giving the presenter their full attention, audience members are busy sharing and chatting to the point of being rude. What’s the speaker to do? What should the event manager do?

I’ve seen several suggestions in various discussion groups to which I belong. Everything from 1) Stop the speech and ask everyone to pay attention, to 2) Quietly go about the room politely asking audience members to please stop talking and listen, to 3) Ignore it and hope it will go away!

I don’t recommend Nos. 2 and 3. No. 1 is an option. If the speaker suddenly gets quiet and just waits, people will notice and become silent as well.

I know one speaker who, when faced with an inattentive audience, simply stopped talking and raised her arm straight up in the air. This is an old “Girl Scout camp” trick that Beth Cooper-Zobott, director of Conference Services at Equity Residential, suggests. As a member of a noisy audience, she once just raised her arm and everyone followed suit and got quiet! She recommends that anyone who does speaking should put this idea in the “trainer/speaker tool belt” and use it as a part of a “canned” segue into the presentation by sharing a personal anecdote to warm up the audience.

The key here isn’t to chastise those in the audience who weren’t speaking, so as not to lump them in with those who were being discourteous, and to handle the situation smoothly no matter our level of frustration. For example, she says, a room is noisy/chatty. I begin, and chatting continues. I raise my hand straight in the air. Those in the room notice and grow silent. I thank the room and say conversationally, “Raising your hand to focus a group’s attention is something I learned when I was about 7, when I was a Brownie Scout and a member of Mrs. Houseman’s Troop 13 in Elgin, Ill. By a show of hands, who among us was in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts? For some of us, that may have been our first experience as a part of a team of leaders. Today, we’re all leaders in our industry and the leadership issue we’ll be talking about today is ...”

If you have ever been a part of this situation and would like advice on how to resolve it, let’s back up and take a look at how this should have been handled from the planning stages. If you ever have to sit on a planning committee, provide education for a local or national association or a meeting, these are good tips to follow.

» Particularly when working with a nonprofessional speaker, event management should send the presenter a list of techniques to effectively engage an audience. A Google search will unveil a plethora of articles to prepare presenters to engage an audience. Always send the list to the presenter in an upbeat manner that lets him or her know that you are available to help make preparation easy.

» Plan with the speaker to have staff on hand with wireless microphones (if it is going to be a large audience) to start with an interactive session right out of the gate. If audience members realize that the speaker might call on them to answer a question, they will get immediately focused. This is particularly useful with a novice speaker and an audience that historically likes to socialize. It’s always good to have a few “plants” in the audience to get the ball rolling.

» The person introducing the speaker should make some general housekeeping announcements, such as “turn off your cell phones” and other information of note and then call the session to “order” indicating full attention.

» If you ever have to make a presentation and are like 99 percent of the population (who face it with dread), simply start your talk with a confession that you are nervous. Why? It will elicit compassion from the audience and help you feel more in control.

» Brian Monahan of Prestige AV & Creative Services suggests that participants receive a set of “Ground Rules” for attending meetings. They are:

» Respect the forum with decorum.

» Remove yourself from the room if you cannot honor the presenter/attendees with your attention.

» Be empowered to request others to honor the ground rules of the event.

» Ask yourself how you would want to be treated if given the same stage, and do that.

» Don’t attend if you cannot honor these simple rules.

Everyone I’ve spoken with about this topic agrees that it has always been an ongoing challenge. When you are faced with either planning, participating or serving as a presenter, keep these simple tricks in mind to keep things on track.

What’s More, On Video

Have to make a presentation? Remember these points.

(Howcast video)

Social Life Skills 101

Want the Keys to lifelong success for your children? The Key Class will teach them Social Life Skills 101!

Register your child for The Key Class today! Just four classes — on table manners, meet and greet, respect and making others at ease with them. For those seeking jobs, we’ll teach how to create résumés and cover letters!

Held from 6 to 8 p.m. every Thursday at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, 1535 Santa Barbara St.

Click here to register online, or contact John Daly at 805.452.2747
 or [email protected].

John Daly is the founder and president of The Key Class, the go-to guide for job search success. Click here to learn more about The Key Class or get information on Thursday night classes in Santa Barbara. Connect with The Key Class on Facebook. Follow John Daly on Twitter: @johndalyjrClick here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >