Chapter 8

Maintaining Control of a Presentation

When you are interacting with your listeners, maintaining control of a presentation can be a challenge. However, to accomplish the objectives you have defined for your talk, you must lead your session and ensure that it does not drift away from your desired focus.

Some presentations are designed to accommodate interruptions; listeners are invited to jump in at any time with comments or questions. Other talks depend more on an uninterrupted flow for effectiveness. Decide in advance what type of presentation you will give and let the audience know if interruptions are welcome.

What if you are interrupted when you have not invited comments or questions? First, don’t panic. Remember, the audience will generally be on your side and will look to you to control the agenda.

Next, consider the nature of the interruption. Is it hostile? Is it encouraging? Could it be useful in any way?

In addition, evaluate the audience. Are they nodding their heads in agreement with the interrupter? Are they rolling their eyes? Are they experts who already know the answer to his or her question?

Your response to any interruption will have to balance several goals and responsibilities. You need to (1) project confidence, (2) show appropriate respect for the interrupter, (3) respect the audience’s time, and (4) deliver your message effectively.

Although responding to certain questions may take you away from your agenda, your listeners may well appreciate your flexibility and willingness to improvise.

However, when a detour is not best for your presentation, you can offer to speak to the interrupter later. If he or she presses you further, don’t be shy about using a firm tone to make your position clear. You are the steward of your listeners’ time, and time is a limited and valuable resource. Don’t waste it.

It can be difficult to balance competing goals for a presentation. Doing so requires consideration of a range of data that you can glean only by carefully assessing your audience and any given situation as it unfolds. But remember, you are the one to lead the way.