Audience and Classroom Management Skills

Today, while working with a group of experienced trainers, this question came up several times: How do I manage my audience (or classroom) without being heavy-handed?

Whether you are presenting material, facilitating a meeting, or facilitating training, audience management is crucial to getting the content across, while keeping things on track. Too many disruptions, questions or side conversations can derail even the best presentation, while coming across as impatient or rude won’t win very many points.

Here are four suggestions to find the fine balance:

1.       Put everything in positive terms. Tell your audience what you will be covering, rather than what you won’t. Tell them you have “a lot of great content” instead of “too much information.” Instead of saying, “I know this slide is busy” (if it can’t be helped), say, “What’s important on this slide is” or “I would like to direct your attention to…” Always look for the positive way to say things, not the negative.

2.       Invite, don’t command. “I invite your questions”, or “I invite you to discuss this at your tables”, is so much nicer than saying “I want you to.” It’s easy to get caught up in being directive, but remember adult learners want some say in what and how they learn. If suggesting doesn’t seem strong enough, try a “let’s” statement; “Let’s all turn to page 4 in our handout.”

3.       Have their best interests at heart. Audiences can throw a lot of disruptions our way, from side conversations to reading newspapers to…knitting! For each behavior, ask yourself who it is bothering. If it bothers other people in the room, you probably need to say something. (The woman who not only answered her phone but took the call—right in class—comes to mind.) But, if you are the only one being inconvenienced, perhaps you can overlook it.

4.       Use strong delivery skills. Be sure you are continually making eye contact with people in the room. All parts of the room; front, sides and back. This goes a long way to keep listeners engaged. Make sure your body language is open and confident. No crossed arms or hands in pockets; too low-power and low-energy. And, keep your voice strong and your vocal inflections certain. Don’t let a questioning sound at the end of your statements undermine your credibility.

It is a fine line, but I think you can be strong, yet warm and welcoming when it’s your turn to speak.