When you’re presenting or leading a meeting, you’re in charge of the room.
Maybe it goes back to our days as students in class, maybe it’s just part of how we understand authority, but when you’re the one at the front of the room, you’re in charge. That means you have responsibilities that go beyond your content. Everyone is looking to you to keep things moving, give a coherent message, and handle anything unexpected that pops up.
Have you ever been in the audience when something goes wrong? It could be anything—the computer freezes, an audience member’s phone goes off, one person is dominating the Q&A with long-winded assertions masquerading as questions. The audience’s discomfort can only be mitigated by the person in charge—you. My advice is to address it as soon as it becomes clear that the issue isn’t going to resolve itself quickly. The attention of an audience is a fragile and fleeting thing, and as soon as the dominant thought in their minds is “when is she going to handle that?,” you’ve lost them. And it’s hard to get them back.
The computer freezes? If there’s a tech person available, ask them to come up and address the problem while you continue without the deck. If your slides are crucial to doing your presentation, pause for some discussion while they get you back up and running.
Phone rings? Pause, ask everyone to go ahead and pull their phones out to silence them. No shame, just action.
One person is dominating the Q&A? Pull out a thread you can respond to in order to get the floor back, then without batting the conversational ball back, say, “I’m glad you have so much interest in this topic. Now I’d like to hear from some people who haven’t had a chance to speak yet.”
The big thing to remember is that the decisions here are yours. You need to make them quickly to keep the energy up and the attention on you and your message.