As a speaker, you’ve no doubt encountered distractions; who hasn’t! Wouldn’t it be grand if you could simply hold up the classic “Do Not Disturb” sign to address this? Unfortunately, that’s not an option.
Distractions can present themselves in a number of ways such as:
1. Outside noise (e.g construction)
2. Voices from an adjoining room (e.g. coming through a partition)
3. Ringing cell phones
4. Clattering dishes if you’re speaking during a meal
5. Malfunctioning equipment (e.g. microphone, projector, lighting)
6. Lack of control over thermostat setting
7. Fire alarm
8. Overhead music or public address system
9. Power loss or interruption
10. Sidebar conversations
While this is a rather substantial list, I have no doubt you can add your own examples. The point is that the best strategy is to anticipate distractions and wherever possible, develop a contingency plan to address them in advance. Try these suggestions:
*Before you arrive at your venue, call ahead and ask about what else is going on at the site the day you’re scheduled to speak. This way you can have a heads up and possibly request changes in the location of your room or accommodations.
*Arrive early (at least 1 hour) to orient yourself to your setting, locate your contact people or find out how to reach them if and when a problem occurs.
*If your audience doesn’t appear to notice the distraction then do your best to ignore it and move on vs. bringing it to their attention.
*If the distraction is obvious (i.e. competing noise, dishes dropped, etc.) you can pause briefly in hopes of the noise being short-lived. However, if the distraction is longer than a minute you’ll want to contact a facility employee and request assistance.
*At times it can be helpful to use humor to make light of a distraction vs. acting annoyed or flustered. This helps your audience to relax and not get concerned since you seem in control.
*When members of your audience have sidebar conversations, don’t waste your time talking over them. You can either use silence or move closer to those who are speaking; both of these approaches will usually result in shutting down the sidebar conversation.
*Before you begin speaking, either you or the person introducing you can state that you request cell phones be muted during the presentation.
Let me know what else has worked for you; in the interim, I hope you find these suggestions helpful in managing your distraction dilemmas.