Public Speaking: Rude Audience

January 28th, 2009 by Frank Damelio

Is it rude to carry on a conversation while a speaker is formally addressing the audience?

Tonight I attended a chamber of commerce annual meeting.  About eighty people comprised the audience. While an officer was publicly addressing the group regarding new member introductions, past and upcoming events and member recognition, I did what I always do . . . look around the room.

Here is what I observed: FIVE private on-going conversations overtly being conducted.  Surprised?  I was. Sure, you usually see a couple of people whispering . . .  but FIVE conversations?

Here is what happened:  The speaker, though professional and organized, simply disseminated information from behind the podium. In our last blog we talked about the difference between disseminating information and communicating/connecting with the audience.  What I usually see when a speaker disseminates instead of communicates is that audience members QUIETLY tune out.  If you look, you will see it in their eyes.  However, in this case, some tuned out and tuned right into their own conversations.  In my humble opinion that is rude.

I was a speaker at this event; so I knew I would have my work cut out for me.  I had brought a wireless headset mic and my own amplifier – just in case.  Generally, for eighty people I would not use a mic, but after seeing the chitter-chatter that the preceding speaker had to deal with, I plugged right in.  Volume always helps.

After I was introduced and received applause, I noticed there were three people near the front engrossed in their own conversation.  Only yawns are more contagious that chit-chat.  I knew that if left unchecked that distraction would lead to others, and I would end up with the same five groups of private conversations.

I’m not about to hush other adults as if they were children.  At the same time, I’m not going to let anyone distract the rest of my audience, and thusly diminish the impact of my message.

Here is the technique I always use to solve the problem of “chit-chats”: I present directly to them until the first looks up at me and quickly shuts up.  In an instant the others fall silent as well.  The longer it takes them to realize I’m presenting right to them, the more the rest of the audience starts to focus on them, and the more impact the technique has.

The bonus to this technique is that others will understand that it’s not okay to have an extended conversation while I’m presenting.

In this particular case it was a bit awkward, as I’ve never had a conversation ensue directly after being introduced. I used my technique for about two minutes, which FEELS like an eternity.  That’s how long it took this woman to look up and notice.  Once she did – problem solved.

On to the presentation where I try a new demonstration based on the psychology of persuasion and it unexpectedly FAILS.  When you take the risk, sometimes you fall flat on your face, and this was one of those rare occasions.  In my next blog, I will share what happened and how I handled it.

For now, you have a powerful technique for handling rude audience members when public speaking.

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7 Responses to “Public Speaking: Rude Audience”

  1. Target Intellect Blog » Handling public speaking blunders Says:

    […] Master Public SpeakingPower of PersuasionInterviewingProjecting the Executive PersonaAchieve SuccessTrade Show StrategyCreating a Winning TeamSales Success Share & Learn « Public Speaking to a Rude Audience […]

  2. Target Intellect Blog » Public Speaking Layout and Floor Plan Says:

    […] our recent blog about rude audiences, we referred to the fact that the speaker disseminated information rather than communicating and […]

  3. Bella Says:


    I can remember in highschool and college some of my instructors doing this. I have to admit – I sometimes was the one chit-chatting and unfortunately, I sometimes still do while attending presentations. Whats interesting though, is outside of the classroom I have never had a public speaker do this to me OR seen them do it to someone else. I think speakers should use this technique more often, because when I did experience it – I shut right up. And when I am paying attention – it’s very distracting when other people are chit-chatting. After reading this and realizing how rude it can be – I am definately going to be more aware of myself.

  4. Frank Damelio Says:


    How perceptive! I used to be a teacher and that is where I learned this technique. Instead of stopping my presentation and “calling-out” the students I would simply present directly to them until they noticed and got the hint. Also, Kudos to you for being more aware about chit-chatting in the future. I appreciate your reflection!


  5. Laura Briere Says:

    wow – that two minutes must have really felt like hell!!! I’ll try that next time. =)

  6. Frank Damelio Says:

    Laura, it was one of those eternal moments, but I’m glad I did it, and I’m happy you will try it. Be sure to share your experiences with us once it happens. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Samual Ranmar Says:

    Appreciate it. Can’t wait to read post. Good day!

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