Managing the Crowd: How to Deal with Troublemakers

Member news | October 25, 2021

Experienced speakers know that most of the time, there is at least one troublemaker who seems to be there only to interrupt you. Some of them can even have a hostile or cynical attitude towards you or your topic. Others want to show their expertise. 

Some participants may have a negative body language that can disturb you. You will also see some whiners, apparently there to let out their anger and frustration on others.

In the 1970’s, a group of educators created a model of different audience types a lecturer may experience in a college classroom. I can assure you that you will see the same kind of people in a conference room or a training. 

  1. The Sheep

Sheep are conventional and respectful; they rarely question your knowledge or control. You will feel that Sheep are you allies as long as they trust you and your authenticity. 

  1. The Hotshot

Hotshots are confident, participative, positive, and challenging. They learn quickly and love all discussion formats, but they need to be sure that you know your topic.

  1. The Clown

Clowns love social interaction and want to entertain the audience. They can be pleasant and easy to motivate if you give them attention. Avoid being too serious with them and keep them on track by asking them specific questions. 

  1. The Sniper

Snipers start out with a hostile and cynical attitude. Preparation and confidence are crucial when handling this personality type who can become aggressive. Avoid taking their remarks personally and defending your standpoint. 

  1. The Snowman

Snowmen are socially anxious and prefer to stay silent. It is not easy to get a reaction from them, but they need your attention even if they have difficulties to express themselves. 

  1. The Black Cloud

They have a negative body language and low energy. They think that they already know everything about your topic, or they are easily bored and depressed. You will have to be very enthusiastic and supportive to get their attention until the end of your presentation.

  1. The Unwanted Panelist

This is the “expert” who has always something to add to your speech because he is sure to know more than you about the topic. You will have to handle them carefully and remind them that you are the speaker in the room if they don’t stop speaking.  

Dealing with troublemakers can be very annoying, and these emotional drainers may leave you overwhelmed and exhausted; but remember that the best reaction towards a troublemaker is no reaction at all.

Your role as a speaker is to manage the crowd as well as your speech. If you take time to set agreements with your audience at the beginning of your presentation, it will allow you to clarify what they should expect from the topic, and from you as the speaker.  

Muriel Omur Ilbas is a former TV producer and anchorwoman, a communication expert with 20 years of management consulting, 16 years of training services, and 11 years of executive coaching experience.

She has worked with more than 150 global companies including Pepsi, British American Tobacco, Coca Cola, L’Oréal, Limagrain, Lesaffre, Total, Peugeot, Groupama, Louis Vuitton, Basf, Roche, Glaxo, and Novartis.

Her company, LSWUS Consulting, LLC, based in the U.S., provides a broad variety of online and in-person services in consulting, coaching, training, mentoring, and crisis management for expat managers and international students living in the US.

She provides intercultural coaching and public speaking services under her brand: Your Coach in America.