“There’s no such thing as a difficult audience. Most audiences start neutral and turn difficult because of what the person of the front is or isn’t doing.” So said an erstwhile fellow trainer to me when I entered the mysterious world of training some 15 years ago.

He was referring to Presenters, but over the years I have found out that the same rule applies to pretty well any group interaction.

Business Analysis Conference 2009

This article is part of a series of contributions by speakers at the Business Analysis Conference 2009 in London on 28-30 September

When things go wrong, you can normally analyse the cause, and 90% of the time it was avoidable, and a basic error has been made (more often than not during the opening moments of the meeting/workshop/presentation).

If I had to summarise what the errors are, I’d say they boil down basically to a lack of respect for the audience. When the person leading the session in whatever capacity fails to demonstrate that they have thought about the audience and taken this into account when designing it, the audience gets it within moments.

The errors are so crass, it is hard to believe that grown up people with more than ounce of intelligence make them day in, day out. To compound things, we transfer these errors to a virtual environment and they make the effect even worse.

Here are my top 5 favourites (ie the most obvious, most predictable, most damaging). I dare you to read the list and assess yourself over the last 3 months as you do so:

  • Assuming the audience sees the topic in exactly the same way as you do
  • Driving an agenda into which they have no input
  • Not finding a connection of any meaningful sort with them, so they sit there humming the subconscious but well known tune “What’s in it for me?”
  • Presenting them with data which has them gagging within minutes, designed to make you look clever and intimidate them into respecting you
  • Assuming that at any given time the method you have chosen for covering the topic will work because it suits your style (ie ignoring the wonderful diversity of thinking styles in the room).

I have managed to successfully do all of these over the years, and thankfully still have arms and legs. Normally people quietly disengage, find other things to do whilst still in the room, or just enjoy the free biscuits. The next level is when they start asking tricky questions, turn up late from breaks, get more obvious with their emails and start disrupting the group, and is a lot harder to handle.

When it gets to Red Alert and they start openly questioning the value/relevance, proposing that the session is terminated, the only option is to withdraw with whatever dignity you can muster. I have only ever seen it a couple of times, and I am shuddering at the thought.

In my session “Running Effective Workshops” I aim to provide some safety nets to avoid this ever happening to you. Using tried and tested templates and a dose of best practice, discussion and reflection, you will either have some new tools or at least sharpened up a few of them.

Think of the session as a punch in the arm if you feel there is a danger that you, like many others, may just have fallen asleep at the wheel when you design your workshops.

Michael Brown is founder of Michael Brown Training, a specialist partnership which helps industry leaders with negotiation, conflict handling, sales skills, team development, leadership and management skills