Public Speaking: Dealing With Interruptions

June 28th, 2009 by Frank Damelio

timeout2Most of us have attended a presentation where an audience member interrupts the speaker and attempts to monopolize. The monopolizer is usually unaware that he is crossing the line, and it is the presenter’s responsibility to shut him down fast.

I recently attended an excellent seminar on marketing. The presenter’s style was to ask rhetorical questions and then provide us with the answer. One man from the audience continually launched into his own answer to each question. Finally the presenter looked right at him and said, “you need to get your own lecture . . . this one is mine.” Wow! Shut down! The rest of his presentation flowed smoothly, and the audience leaned a great deal.

His zinger was effective.  My question to you, do you think it was too harsh?

Here are my strategies for dealing with interruptions and monopolizers:

1) Stop it before it starts: You may chose to open with the remark, “we have a great deal to cover; so if you would kindly note your questions and save them until the end, I’d appreciate it.”

2) If you are taking questions during the presentation, but someone begins to monopolize, you can say “I see you know a great deal about this topic, and I’d love to speak with you more about it after the presentation.  For now, I’d like to make sure everyone has a chance to participate.”

3) When the monopolizer takes a breath, say “okay, we need to move on because time is limited”.

4) Speak directly to the stubborn interruptor: “John, I love your enthusiasm, and I’m going to ask you to hold your comments until the end, so that we can get through the material.”

5) Here’s another zinger I saw a presenter use to handle an unruly interruptor: “Hey Sam, this is a one man show…and I’m the man.”

The most important thing to remember is that the audience is looking for you to squelch the interruptor because they are there to see you.  Always be prepared in advance to handle this, and your audience will appreciate it.

One caveat:  These techniques work well when it’s “your show”.  I wouldn’t recommend squelching questions when presenting to the Board of Directors of your company, because that is really “their show”.  Always consider the context when applying any public speaking technique.

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2 Responses to “Public Speaking: Dealing With Interruptions”

  1. Jason Kallio Says:

    I think a polite approach first is best. You would not want to alienate your audience by being a jerk. I agree that your audience will look for you to control the monopolizer.

  2. Frank Damelio Says:

    Thanks for your comment Jason. I’m looking forward to attending one of your excellent seminars and heckling you . . . can you handle it? LOL

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