I remember three years ago in Valencia giving a keynote speech. It was going really well, until suddenly, the air conditioning machine rolled, rattled and sputtered and half the audience jumped, and the other half laughed. I did not hear this rebellious machine but I saw the audience turn their ears and eyes away from me. A whole section of my speech was lost and I really didn’t know how to get their attention back.
What do you do if the air conditioning starts to rumble like a tornado has hit the room? What do you do if your audience is more interested in discussing it than listening to you?
What do you do when you are ready to rock ‘n’ roll but your audience are still fiddling with their mobile phones even after you asked them to switch off?
Yes, this kind of scenario does happen and, when it is your turn to appear on stage and there is a disruption in the audience, for what ever reason, your professionalism needs to be pulled out of the bag, rapidly.
My timing is so precise a heckler would have to make an appointment just to get a word in. – Phyllis Diller –
I got first hand training dealing with hecklers during my years on theatre and comedy stages. Nowadays, it is not just one rebellious, restless or rude heckler that occupies and disrupts audiences…it is everything else!
It can range from a public that is sleepy after a heavy lunch, to surprise tornados, even a refugee cricket stuck in the ceiling. Each and every one of these interruptions can disrupt your speech.
How do you stay cool, calm and collected when your audience has their eyes and ears elsewhere?
A quick assessment of the situation is essential. Is it serous enough that the building has to be evacuated or simply and more often than not, a case of human diversion? We are surrounded by constant distractions. As we all know, according to the latest research, the average human attention span is 8 seconds! (Yes, less than a goldfish!) How on earth do we compete with this statistic? Having a top class speech that is well rehearsed and presented is fundamental, but the unexpected can always happen.
Here are some tips to get you through those tricky distracting times.
- Don’t offend the rebels, or the machines, keep your smile and be polite.
If the audience ignores the distraction, you should too.
- Use humour whenever you can, it keeps the audience on your side and makes and enemy of the rebel without a cause.
Mobile phones are the biggest culprits. Even after you have reminded everyone to switch off , there are always those who didn’t, who never do and who forget. Here is your opportunity to let the comic in you emerge.
The most obvious reply to a ringing phone in the audience is, ‘Oh, is that for me?’ There are many enhancements.
‘Tell him, I will be late for dinner. Thanks!’ is my favourite.
You can ignore the ringing phone and walk to the other side of the stage. Where there is movement the eye will follow.
- Keep your composure, remember your place in the speech, don’t let the distraction get on top of you. Watch how comedians deal with hecklers, it will give you confidence and some good jokes to line your pockets, just in case.
- Remember why you are on that stage, to convince, to inspire, to motivate or to sell.
The audience have come to see and hear you. Keep that mindset and you will overcome the annoying interferences.
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Well, it’s a night out for him.. and a night off for his family – Jack Dee –
On the button advice, as usual, Georgia! I do agree that humour usually defuses awkward situations, and being ready with one or three simple jokes helps enormously and scores you a bonus pòint to boot. Like the Girl Guide, be prepared….
Another enjoyable read Georgia – you always have me smile and laugh as I recognize situations you mention. Thanks also for the very handy advice!
I gave a speech about OCD and during the Interval I prepared the room by moving things around and making things untidy. When I got up to make my speech, quite a few things had been put back – it threw me off and messed up my speech. I was shocked! You have to be prepared and on the ball at all times!