How to Handle a Disrespectful Crowd During a Speaking Gig

They say public speaking is one of the most nerve wracking experiences, but what if the crowd is just downright disruptive and disrespectful?

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #385

See, I couldn’t let my nerves get to me and ruin the show for the kids. After all, I am a professional and they are rude gossipers. So, to make sure the kids had a blast, I had to be creative with my remarks to help calm the crowd. There is nothing wrong with letting people know they’re being unmannerly but you have to use tact to do so.

There is nothing wrong with letting people know they’re being unmannerly but you have to use tact to do so.

Tip #2: Cut It Short But Don’t Shortcut the Show

When it comes to my talks, I’ve done everything from a five-minute introduction to an hour and a half presentation. The nightmare event at the school was definitely a quicker talk than normal, but I still had the talk mapped out. However, as I when I was talking, or rather yelling, over the crowd (bear in mind I had a microphone too), I realized that no matter what I did, the Peanut Gallery in the back were not going to listen. Now, as a professional, some will argue that it’s my job to do crowd control. To this, I respond with ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Yes, I have to let the crowd know to please quiet down but no it’s not my job to tape their mouths shut. As I said, I didn't want to make a scene or stoop to their level. With that, you have to gauge the room to find out if your time is being wisely used. For example, I had a “bit” planned for the talk, I knew the kids would like and would get a laugh. It wasn’t a big to-do but it was fun. However, I needed silence for it. It wouldn’t make sense with so much noise and, trust me, there was a LOT! So, I made a gut decision to leave it out. It didn’t ruin my talk (the people in the back did that), but I did get a sense for what would work and what wouldn’t.  

When you’re an entertainer, it’s your right to give the crowd a show. I take this very seriously and I put the pressure on myself to deliver. But you have to look at the landscape and figure out what will work and will not. This doesn’t mean shortchanging the audience, but it does mean knowing your crowd and pivoting accordingly. When I realized a dozen rude parents were bringing the house down, I had to change up my presentation and focus on the strengths. I ditched my one bit and moved along. The crowd didn’t know, but I did. And that is very important. It’s proper in a presentation to work on the fly. When you do that, you are able to be more successful and succinct. To remain calm, you have to be comfortable, and if that means nixing something, then so be it. It allows you to not over-stress on what is going wrong, but rather direct your strengths into what is working well. And always, always, always deliver strong!

Tip #3: Focus on the People Who Care

When thinking about my terrible talk the other night at the Rude Room, the only solid takeaway was the kids and watching them enjoy the show. I remember walking around before the talk the kids (already knew who I was) would come to me and tell me they were going to get a front row seat. I smiled and cheered them on.  When I got up to talk it was clear that the first four rows were all kids, some with parents, while other parents stood in the back. And of that backrow crew, there were a handful of loud folks. But, the ones that cared and the real reason I was there, was because of my front row audience of children. So, when the time came for me to talk, and when I started to hear the rude clamoring in the back of the house, I turned my focus to the kids.

As I said before, I could have let the ignorant adults get to me and throw me off. I’d like to tell you that I didn’t hear them but I did. And as a professional, it’s proper to admit that their actions got under my skin. However, a true professional doesn’t let unmannerly behavior disrupt a performance. So, when I realized the adults weren’t going to stop, I kept focus on the kids. I talked right at them. I walked around the room, across the front rows and shook their hands. I let them ask questions in the middle and I did my best to keep the engaged. With that, after the talk that ended, the kids were so happy and thanked me in the halls afterwards. Yes, the kids thanked me! And that’s how you approach a rude crowd; you can’t leave the room, so you should make the best of the landscape in front of you. After all, if you let the bullies win, it just encourages them to do it again.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

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About the Author

Richie Frieman

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