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‹ View all articles 12th November 2012

How to handle the Sniper in the room

Delivering a Talk

If you have a fear of giving presentations, it could be because you're worried about negative audience members being in the room. One difficult audience type is the Sniper, whose favourite game is shooting down speakers. What do you do if you find yourself confronted by a sneaky Sniper?

You're presenting and everything is going well. Your audience is engaged and asking questions when all of a sudden, out of the blue... WHAMMO! Your biggest fear of presentation has occurred. A snarky question or comment comes from the audience.

"What makes you the expert on this?" "Why should we listen to you?" "That's not what I've read. You're wrong."

Yes. You've just received a zinger from the SNIPER.

(pause for dramatic effect)

Snipers are those people in your audience that are hostile towards you or cynical towards your topic and they're a common cause of the fear of presentation. Snipers tend to be smart, with impeccable attention spans. They eagerly wait for a chance to criticise or show off their knowledge to the rest of the audience. Eyes begin rolling and arms are folded to convey displeasure or disagreement. They are quick to raise a hand to prove you wrong and pull the attention to their own knowledge on the subject.

How to disarm a Sniper

If you find yourself with one or even worse a room full of snipers, use their powers for good to help you decrease that fear of presentation. Preparation and confidence is very important when dealing with these difficult customer. Remember that you're at the front of the room for a reason, that you are here to share yourself and impart information because of your abilities. These sharp shooting snipers can only rattle you if you believe them; that you don't know what you're talking about.

Even though it may FEEL like a personal attack, it is not. Although it may seem they're trying to shoot you down, your sniper may simply want an answer to a problem they're facing and have an awkward way of expressing it. Direct the sniper back to "our" topic, so that your presentation becomes a discussion rather than an argument. When you welcome the comments, versus defending yourself, you take the powder out of his rifle and cause his aim to blur. Take the pressure of yourself by bringing in the audience; "What does everyone else think?". 

There is no 'winning' an argument with a Sniper - if you try to compete you'll often end up creating a bad feeling in the room. When the Sniper sees that you do not take the bait, often they will fizzle out and stop the shenanigans.

Looking at your own emotions can help to deal with this type of audience member. Does criticism make you hurt or defensive? Take a look at why and ways you can become less sensitive to such perceived attacks. Role playing how you would handle criticism is also a useful tool as preparing increases confidence.

Remember not to take things too personally, if you've touched a nerve in someone then let them have their feelings and emotions. You can provide a safe space for discussion of your topic and utilize the energy from the sniper as energy towards your topic.

As a speaker it's important to become less defensive and more open. Use your experiences with the Sniper as "personal growth" so that you may become in tune with your audience and serve them more effectively in the future. This leads to authenticity, which is one of the key elements in successful public speaking. Develop your character and you too can turn the sniper into your ally and reduce the fear of presentations down to zero.

 

 

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