Public Speaking Tips: How to Handle Interruptions

By Sharon Glickman, USDR Contributor

As a keynote speaker and presence image coach, I often find myself speaking to large groups of people. Thankfully, I no longer have any hint of glossophobia (the fear of public speaking), but I know many of you struggle with it to some degree. I’ve given tips on how to control that fear because it’s vitally important to your personal and professional development to be able to successfully speak to a group of people.

Now I want to help you further refine your public speaking skills. Here are a few techniques you can use to handle interruptions when you’re giving a presentation or speech.

  • Chatty Cathy’s in the audience: this is probably the most common type of interruption you’ll experience as a public speaker. Certainly it’s rude of the attendee but we cannot hope that everyone will conduct themselves in a courteous manner. You could of course do what elementary teachers do and ask the chatterer to share the conversation with everyone. I don’t recommend this because it’ll make everyone in the audience uncomfortable. Instead, you should make eye contact with the annoying talker while you continue your speech and trust me that the message to be quiet will be communicated and understood. If the chatterer continues unabated, that is when you can politely ask him/her to leave (but do this as a last resort).
  • Ringing cell phones and crying babies: this time you can directly address the noisemaker but not right away. Give that person some time to exit the room, but if they don’t then do say something. Try to make a joke about it – “I love your ringtone but can you take that call outside?” or “I understand that the baby doesn’t agree with me, so maybe you can take him/her for a walk.” Say it with a smile, but say something to get the offender out of the room.
  • Equipment failure: make no mistake, this will happen to you at some time when you’re giving a presentation or speech. Of course, you would have already tested the equipment and gotten familiar with the controls prior to the start of your speech. But, equipment failures do happen and when it does you should make one attempt to fix the problem and then move on with your presentation. If the microphone quits on you that’s the most difficult hurdle to overcome, but raise your voice and try to do it. If the slides or powerpoint go off, ask the audience to drop off their business cards with you before they leave and promise to send the “slides” to them via email after the event. Don’t let an equipment failure stop you from completing your presentation. That’s a rookie mistake and you know better than that!
  • There’s a medical or public safety emergency: this is the most difficult type of interruption to handle. Remember, you are the captain of the ship when you’re giving a presentation to a group of people and they will look to you for guidance. Always know before you start your speech the location of emergency exits and equipment. If it’s a medical issue, request assistance from any medical personnel in the audience. If there is no one to help, direct one audience member to call 911 for assistance. If it’s a public safety issue, ask everyone to stay calm and to leave the room in an orderly manner. Remain calm at all times. If you can finish your presentation once the emergency has passed make sure to adjust it to the remaining time. Again, you can ask the audience to leave their business cards with you if they would like you to email them your presentation materials.

Learning to be a good public speaker takes time and practice, but it is a skill that you can master. Put some effort into gracefully handling interruptions, and you will be considered a top notch speaker in no time at all!

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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