Within every training course, every event, every workshop – there is always one audience member who presents a verbal challenge to the speaker.

Sometimes it is a comment designed to provoke gasps and grab attention from the audience. Other times, it is a specific and challenging question creating an uncomfortable and negative classroom environment.  In many ways, it is the desire to shine the spotlight and focus on themselves and their expertise rather than expected content. Whatever, the cause or reasons, the disruption occurs all too frequently within formal learning events.

Over the years, I have observed many corporate training professionals and presenters. Several have developed creative methods for handling those challenging audience members. Some methods I have personally observed (and utilized subsequently include:

* Mirroring! Restating the disruptive question or comment.

  • Example: “If I understood you correctly, you are asking…” This allows the trainer to verify the real question, ensures you get confirmation from the audience member asking the question, and gives a moment or pause to the gather one’s thoughts.
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* Share the wealth!  Take a moment to ask the audience if they have additional input.

  • Example: “Bob is asking…. Has anyone encountered this issue or have any thoughts?”   Why?  This technique can remove the spotlight from Bob and expand it to Bob’s peers whom he respects (ideally).

* Move on! Quickly state how and when you will address the disruptive question / statement – and then change the subject.

  • Example “That’s a great question, and it will be addressed later during the topic entitled…. Let’s focus on [insert topic].

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