Don’t Let a Bully Ruin Your Presentation

If you make a lot of presentations, you’re lucky if you haven’t already encountered a bully in the audience. That’s the know-it-all who interrupts your presentation whenever s/he feels like it or challenges your authority in the Q&A.

It might happen to you one day, and you’ll need to take off your “white gloves” and be prepared to regain control – in a nice way, of course. You don’t want to make your audience even more uncomfortable by getting into a shouting match with the bully.

Defining a Bully

A bully is someone who is grandstanding to show that s/he knows more than you do. Don’t let a bully unnerve you and remember the organization invited you to speak and people came to hear what you have to say

A bully can suck the air out of the room and create a lot of unnecessary tension. It’s up to the speaker to re-energize the room so that everyone leaves with a more positive impression of the speaker and his/her presentation.

How to Handle a Bully

It’s important to stay in control of the situation. If the bully interrupts during your presentation you can say, “I’m glad you’re so interested in this topic, but please let me to finish my presentation. I’ll be taking questions later.” Immediately start talking again, and avoid making eye contact with the bully which only invites another interruption. Or say, “thank you for you insights, we all heard your point of view but this is not the time or the place to debate this issue”.  Then continue with, “What I was saying was …” Again, avoid making eye contact with the interrupter.

Bullies love to dominate the question & answer session. Here are responses that you can use to put them in their place:

  • “I’ll be happy to take your question but first tell us your name and affiliation.” Then when responding, use the person’s name to take the edge off the confrontation.
  • “Thank you for your point of view. We now know where you stand but we need to get back to our original agenda.” Then immediately turn away from the bully and take someone else’s question.
  • “There isn’t time to fully answer your question now, but I will be here for a while after the Q&A so let’s talk then.” Then move on to the next question.

Get the Audience on Your Side

Let the members of the audience take on the bully. They are on your side and are just as irritated as you are about the bully’s hostility and hogging the stage. They want their questions answered, too.  Here’s what you can say:

“Interesting question, Scott. What does the rest of the audience think about that?” Use a sweeping, inclusive arm gesture inviting comments. You will be delighted and heartened when someone is very likely to say: “I don’t agree with your point of view at all. The speaker is correct when s/he says…”

The audience has been itching to shut the bully up. Give them the chance they’ve been waiting for. Close off the Q&A at the appropriate time, and then summarize the key points of your presentation.

Your summary remarks are crucial because you want the attendees to leave with your points of view.

What techniques have you used to handle a bully? We welcome your comments below.

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