Sometimes trying to minimize a distraction only makes it worse. The better approach might be to engage with it head-on—as long as you know how to do it.
I once watched master speaker Brian Tracy turn a pesky interruption into a meaningful encounter. He was speaking about client relationships when a maintenance worker entered the ballroom, opened a closet, and began clanking on pipes. Tracy pressed on, but the noise continued, and the audience was soon distracted. Many speakers would have probably lost it, but not him. With a handheld mike, Tracy strolled over and introduced himself to the maintenance man, whose name was Paul. The conversation went something like this:
“Nice to meet you, Paul. Can I ask you what you’re working on?”
“Trying to get the air flow right in this room. People have complained they’re hot.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, Paul—what’s the toughest part of your job?”
After a short pause, Paul replied, “Well, I guess it’s things like this—trying to do my work and keep everybody comfortable, even while there are hundreds of folks packed into every room.”
“Thanks, Paul,” Brian replied. Then, turning to his audience: “You see, friends, we all have problems like Paul’s. Clients demand your expertise for challenges, and it’s up to you to get the job done and keep stakeholders comfortable and satisfied, regardless of circumstances.”
Tracy then picked up where he’d left off in his talk. And although Paul continued to work, the audience was now more understanding and less distracted.
Try this technique the next time you have a disrupting delay. Engage with whoever or whatever happened to disrupt your talk—not in a rude or condescending way, but in a sincere effort to find out more about what they do and how they do it. Chances are they didn’t mean to distract from your talk and might not even realize they have, and their experience may even help you underscore a point you’re trying to make. Bring the audience along for this spontaneous conversation, and then let the person’s responses help illuminate your content.
Another option is to interact directly with the audience during any downtime. Come to your presentations armed with questions you can ask the audience in emergency situations—anything that elicits feedback, examples, or stories related to your talk.
Read the full story at How Great Speakers Handle Surprise Disruptions