How to deal with difficult audience members

3 Strategies to handle difficult audience members when you speak

How to deal with difficult audience members

Managing your nerves if you’re asked to make a presentation to audiences who are predisposed to being interested in what you may say and nice to you is one thing…

…But what should you do to if the stakes feel higher because audiences you need to address will include people who’ll be the opposite of nice to you? Where you’ll face people (who often hold senior positions) whose go to moves are to be ‘dismissive, negative, and even rude’ towards others they don’t rate or hold in high regard?

Over my many years of being an executive speaking coach, I’ve lost count of how many clients have felt dispirited, cowed or undermined by such disrespectful, boorish or arrogant behaviour. And, not surprisingly, it has also impacted their self confidence.

And truth is. It can feel hard to rail against people who hold positions, standings or sway to dent your career prospects or how you’re perceived by people that matter to you.

Tricky, isn’t it?  And this begs the question: what can a body do to counter these folks?

In short. Be prepared. Be prepared. Be prepared.

In addition to having done your home work on what ever topics you’ll address, figuring out what you can share that your audience should find interesting and valuable, and practising your talks, here’s some really important advice when dealing with difficult people…

…Try your level best not to lose your cool, get mad or to be visibly irritated. Instead, consider how the following 3 strategies can help you to achieve better results:

1. Don’t get personal

There is a great temptation to respond in kind if you believe someone has attacked your integrity. Fight this urge!

It’s easy but unwise to charge into a battle without thinking and if you’re being deliberately baited you run the risk of falling into a trap (which may have been carefully planned just for you)!

And there’s something else. The problem with you kicking off is that you can air and fuel conflicts where those listening may be expected to take sides with individuals ahead of arguments.

And in addition to potential political consequences if you’re seen to be on ‘the wrong side’, it can be really hard to win tit for tat contests. Remember, these are circumstances where you may win battles but lose wars!

A better tack is to focus far more on what is being discussed versus tackling people who disagree with you head on.

2. Listen and narrow

Don’t dodge disagreements. You’ll be cruising for a bruising while or after you speak if people think valid points of contention have been ignored.

You’re better off to acknowledge core reasons why people may disagree with you and ask questions to clarify and narrow what they have in mind and why (ideally before you speak, but this won’t always be possible) before you seek to change hearts and minds with ideas you recommend.

Be aware, you will always appear more reasonable to an audience if you show a willingness to understand where they are coming from and listen to others.

And be demonstrably open to the views of others when you speak. If points made or questions offered from the floor seem valid or worthy of examination, say so and be prepared to take those issues away from the event or meeting for further consideration.

On the other hand, if those who disagree with you are merely sounding off or griping and can’t back up what they say – this will be abundantly obvious to both you and your audience.

3. Be Gracious

No matter how tempting it may seem, steer away from rubbing salt into the wounds of those who disagree with you with vacuous arguments.

You are better off to acknowledge the strength of feelings shared and check that there are no other objections before you move forward. Chances are, you won’t be swayed further from your original propositions.

Why is that important (in any case)?

It is always in your interests and your audience’s interests to have open and honest dialogue.

Your audience must believe that you are fair and reasonable and that you have their interests at heart if you wish to persuade them of anything.

If you want folks to do something after a meeting or event, never ride slipshod over their core audience objections that engender strong feelings – even if you feel these are completely lacking merit. You’ll run the risk of not being trusted and/or inaction if you come off as being dismissive, insensitive or thoughtless.

How do you deal with conflict situations?

Resisting traps set by difficult people is not always easy. How have you dealt with difficult people when giving talks? And what did you learn from these experiences?


your next steps

Discover how to share stories that motivate and persuade

Arrange a business speaking consulation today!

arrange a consultation
Work with Eamonn O'Brien Today

Stop procrastinating.
Start speaking memorably.

If you’ve ever wished to be a public speaker who inspires, now is the ideal time to get started.

get started now
Call +353 1 531 1196