Dealing With People:The Good,The Bad, and the Annoying
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Treating Attendees With Respect
The first principle of handling your attendees is to treat all people with the utmost respect.
Of course you should do this, right? It sounds obvious and it is. Let me give you a real-life example to illustrate this. I conducted a seminar for a continuing education center many years ago where only five people showed up. That’s not a misprint. Five people.
Naturally, I was disappointed. Many people would have delivered less than a high-quality performance. I made sure to give people my best that evening. Little did I know that one lady in attendance was the publisher of a large magazine.
She proceeded to give me close to $8,000 in business over the next year. She later told me that the way I handled things that evening convinced her that I was the person to do the training for her people in-house. Do you think she would have hired me if I had delivered less than a quality performance?
The Distracted, Disinterested Attendee
You will be doing a seminar at some point in the future and someone in the crowd will look like they aren’t interested. You will get bothered by this fact. Maybe they aren’t giving you eye contact. Maybe they’re sitting there reading a newspaper.
If you try to get this person to “like” you, you’re wasting your time and energy. I was doing a speech in Charlottesville, Virginia, to a group of about 275 people. The topic was telephone skills. Exciting topic, right?
The audience was seated in a mini movie theatre with stadium seating. I was doing a one-day event and in the afternoon session I noticed three women who were seated on my far right hand and about halfway to the back.
They were talking among themselves and basically ignoring what I was doing. I spent the entire three hours talking to them. I looked at them and cajoled them with my eyes. Nothing I did seemed to get their attention or convince them to pay attention to what I was saying.
This is the last time I ever did this. Don’t try to convert the unconvertible. Some people will pay attention, others will not. All you can do is deliver great information. You can’t make your audience do anything they don’t want to do. Learn this lesson early and save yourself a lot of grief.
Dealing With Difficult Attendees
Every once in a while you’ll get a real pain in the butt at an event. The way that you handle these people is critical to your success. Here are some tips to deal with these folks effectively.
When a participant gets angry at you in front of your group, you’ll never win if you shoot back with the same kind of response. Even if you “win,” you’ve still lost. The audience perspective is that you hold the advantage. You’re in front of the group and therefore have the most power.
If you win the argument, no matter who is at fault, you’ll be perceived as the bad guy. You must keep your cool and deal with the issue they are presenting and not the emotion they are displaying. Do this right and you’ll win your group over immediately. Do it wrong and you’ll never recover.
Often at a seminar you’ll encounter the person who wants to monopolize the floor with comments or questions. These people are either very smart and have a lot to contribute or they are just idiots who like to hear themselves talk.
With a person who has a lot to offer, pull them aside and tell them how valuable you think their contributions are. Let them know that because of time constraints you’d like them to give a brief presentation (usually five minutes or so) at some point late in the event.
This will keep them quiet and also give others the benefit of their knowledge.
I’ve learned to enlist the rest of the attendees in dealing with the person who talks incessantly with nothing really valuable to contribute. When this particular kind of person pipes up for the fourth time in the first hour, I just turn to the group and ask them if they would like to continue along the path that the individual is suggesting. Usually the group will turn on them and tell them to sit down and shut up. You don’t have to do the dirty work, your audience will!
There are some people who will be so difficult you’ll want to ask them to leave. At the first break after you make this determination, pull them to the side and suggest to them that this event isn’t right for them. Tell them you’d be more than willing to give them a refund and send them on their way.
One negative, pain-in-the-ass participant can infect the entire group. Cut them out like a cancer as soon as possible.
Every once in a while you’ll get someone who will actually try to harass you when you start your product pitch. They’ll speak up and tell the group that they don’t think it’s appropriate for you to be pitching. If you’ve got a lot of people sitting in a room you could stand to lose thousands of dollars if you don’t handle this properly.
I suggest you let the heckler finish their tirade. Then tell them that they are free to leave the room and take a break but you’d like to let other people know about the resources you’ve got to offer because many other people have found them to be valuable. After you’ve said that, continue with your pitch.
If they still won’t behave, then they’re a difficult attendee and you should gently but firmly ask them to leave at the first opportunity.