Control, and relax your audience

Have you ever found yourself sitting in the audience at a meeting or conference presentation wondering, ‘What credentials and experience does this speaker have?’, ‘What’s the agenda and scope of this meeting?’, ‘How long is this going for and will there be catering?’ or ‘When can I ask questions or raise my concerns and opinions?

As a presenter, have you ever had people interrupt you during your meetings with unrelated questions that take you down a path you didn’t want to go down? Or have you experienced people having side conversations that disrupt the rest of the group and draw people’s attention away from you as the presenter?

Some of the most common disruptions in business presentations are mobile phones ringing and/or people reading their text messages in what they think is a secretive way. (It makes me laugh that they believe you can’t see them doing it!) Actions such as these indicate that the person is at least somewhat disengaged from your presentation. These interruptions can be very annoying and offputting, for both the presenter and the rest of the audience. They can even make us feel nervous, especially when you don’t know how to manage them or stop them happening in the first place.

How can I reduce disruptions and increase people’s attention?

You know, I believe that most inappropriate audience behaviour found in meetings, training courses and presentations occurs due to a lack of boundary setting. When you don’t set the boundaries for your audience, they don’t know the scope, timeframe, logistics or anything about your experience or credentials. They are also not sure about what would be considered acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. As a result you can find yourself having to manage what I call ‘dysfunctional’ behaviour.

It is very important to set the ground rules and boundaries for your audiences, so that your participants know details such as who you are, what your session is all about, what to expect and how to behave.

When you set the boundaries you will reduce disruptions, maintain order in your meetings and improve your audience’s ability to listen and ultimately change their behaviour. Essentially, you will better control and relax your audience. Boundary setting is otherwise known as ‘framing’.

What boundaries do I need to set?

I recommend you set some of the following boundaries or frames:

  • name
  • role
  • title
  • department
  • company
  • credentials
  • length of the presentation
  • content
  • phone etiquette
  • when to ask questions
  • if there will be a test
  • scope
  • style
  • to take notes
  • that there will be a handout.