How Do You Handle A Tough Presentation Audience?

“Good listeners, like precious gems, are to be treasured.”

 – Walter Anderson

Most people are scared of presenting to a live audience, irrespective of whether they are prepared to admit it.

Whilst you try to work through your phobias, you must prepare for all circumstances, which means staring down the most daunting – a tough audience.

You would usually only have open dialogue with such your listeners in a Q&A session, if you present to your team, or if you are speaking in a public forum or seminar. But, for those of you who have felt the wrath of a heckler before, you’ll know that a bad audience member can turn a polished act into a mess rather quickly.

So, how do you handle difficult audience members without losing your rapport with the rest?


When you speak before a diverse group, there will be a few who don’t agree with you or hold you in contempt. You can recognize them by their body language. Avoid provoking them with your comments. You’ll end up distracting and alienating attentive members. If they aren’t disrupting your presentation, ignore their presence and carry on.

“Do you mind if I sit back a little? Because your breath is very bad.”

– Donald Trump


Every audience has its share of bad apples. From an expert who frequently interrupts you to a joker who disrupts your flow with irrelevant jokes, you will find irksome members. Honest, humor, calmness, politeness, and authority will see you through difficult situations.


Hostile members come with all guns blazing. While you can’t duck and take cover, you can politely agree to disagree or disprove their point. If you can’t answer a tough question on the spot, ask them to contact you later for a detailed explanation.

If an audience member is the mike-hogging type, allow them to speak once or twice before taking control. Make sure everyone gets an equal chance to ask or provide feedback. If the dominators persist, ask them to write down their queries or replies and hand them over to you.


Not all bad audience members are hostile, there will be times when members doze off or switch off during a presentation. Ignore the urge to walk them up and punish them for not paying attention.  You don’t want to lose the support of your nice audience or have their empathy saved for the wrong person.


If you encounter side conversations while you’re speaking, don’t react unless they are disturbing others.  If the conversation goes on, stop speaking, and wait for the audience to catch up and pay attention. If many of them seem distracted, either your speech is boring or is difficult to follow. Evaluate your performance and change tactics.

Have you encountered a hostile audience? How did you handle them?