How to Handle Public Speaking Challenges

carlaA good speech can suddenly go wrong when faced with these situations. Here are some top tips for handling these common challenges:

Scenario 1: There is a heckler in the audience

This means someone is being openly confrontational to you, or they may just be calling things out to get attention. This can happen during a Q&A, or spontaneously. This doesn’t happen often in a regular business presentation. However, it can happen if you are an after-dinner speaker and people have been drinking, or if your content is controversial. When it does, the audience can be just as frustrated and annoyed as you are, if the heckler is not contributing constructively to the conversation. The key is avoid engaging in a public fight.

Tip #1 – Defer the question until after you end your presentation and invite them to talk to you 1-to-1.

Tip #2 – When they do come up, remain calm and polite…being charming or playful usually works.

Tip #3 – And if they’re truly being disruptive, it’s best to ask the help of the host.

Scenario#2: The audience dislikes you

Perhaps it’s because you’ve arrived late, or you seem overly uncomfortably with yourself, or you just laid off hundreds of employees, or your topic is controversial, or you told an offensive joke.

Tip #1 – You can prevent the audience from turning against you by arriving on time, being well prepared, making sure the mic and visuals work, speaking in a pleasing tone of voice, and using uplifting humor.

Tip #2 – If you can’t prevent the fact that some people will dislike the content of your speech, make sure you know what the issues are and reassure people that you will address them. Validate opposing opinions, even if you don’t agree with them. If people feel acknowledged and respected you can take the stance of “agreeing to disagree” and there will be less hostility.  If you sense things will get hostile, just cut to the Q&A and send a survey to people to get underneath what’s bothering them the most and ask for their suggestions for improvement. That way you invite people into a solutions-oriented mode instead of a blaming mode.

Scenario#3: An audience member asks a really drawn out question

Some people might take a while to compose their thoughts.

Tip #1 – To deal with this, you can ask  them to clarify, to get to the point.

Tip #2 – You can also try interrupting and summarizing their question.

Tip #3 – You can  can tell them that you’ll get back to their questions later. Then, you can give your email address so you can discuss further.

Scenario #4: People are looking at their mobile devices, not you

In today’s digital age, don’t be surprised if everyone’s taking notes or maybe even playing with their computer or mobile device.

Tip #1 – Before your presentation, you can tell them not to do so, or to ask for their undivided attention for a certain period of time.

Tip #2 – You can always focus on those who seem to be truly interested to your presentation.

Tip #3 – Tell more stories and use more examples, as those tend to be more engaging for people. Check out our Storytelling in Business course for more details.

Tip #4 – Use audience participation, asking people to raise their hand, or turn the person next to them and ask a question, to call out

Scenario#5: An audience member asks a super tough question

You’re not expected to know everything, especially if the question is tough and requires extensive research.

Tip #1 – You can simply tell the audience that you don’t know, ask for their email, and get back to them once you have the answers.

Tip #2 – You can ask if someone in the audience knows the answer as well—don’t hesitate about offering the floor to them.

Scenario#6: Microphone stops working

The mic may have feedback or may be inconsistent; this will only distract the audience. If the problem persists, then it’s most likely broken.

Tip #1 – You can ask for the assistance of the tech crew.

Tip #2 – If they can’t solve the problem and the acoustics in the room are good enough, you can speak without a microphone.

Tip #3 – Travel with your own mic and mixer to be on the safe side

Scenario#7:  Your slide show malfunctions

Tip #1 – You can ask for the assistance of the tech crew.

Tip #2 – If they can’t solve the problem, have back up notes to do your presentation without slides.

Tip #3 – Have a printed handout you can give them if your visuals are important


Scenario#9: Running out of time

Going over time at a meeting with multiple speakers is a big no-no. If you do this often enough, you won’t be asked to speak again. Respect timelines. This is why rehearsals are important.

Tip #1 – If you are given 30 minutes to speak, plan a speech that is only 20-25 minutes so you won’t go scrambling for time if you have to start late or there are other unforeseens.

Tip #2 – If you must finish in 30 minutes, talk for 15 and then allow the rest for the Q&A.



For more information on how to be a confident speaker check out this course

Confidence Gold for Presenters