Re-capturing the Attention of Rowdy Meeting Participants

Rowdy CrowdCapturing attention can be a challenge when participants get rowdy, or even if there is a lot of cross-talk. Simply speaking louder and trying to shout over the group is likely to backfire. Not only do you risk alienating the group, you can risk irritating your vocal chords. 

Set-up for Success

Set the stage at the beginning of the meeting by letting the group know that, from time to time, you will be checking in to ensure that content is relevant and targeted.

  • Create a short "How are we doing?" form. Put a few of them upside down in the center of each table. Let participants know you may use them from time to time for scheduled or quick check-ins.
  • Create a hashtag, share it with the group and invite them to tweet positive feedback, suggestions for improvement and share content with followers.
  • Keynote PadsPlace bright ideas and lightening bolt Post-its on each table. Provide flip chart papers for feedback near meeting room exits so that participants can slip the post-its inconspicuously into place.
    Let participants know that the Post-its are for giving feedback about how the meeting is going. Light bulbs are for ideas to improve the meeting or conference. Lightning bolts are for pinpointing an area of dissatisfaction along with a specific suggestion for making things better.
  • Give the group options for getting their attention when it is time to re-convene or after a discussion and get them to vote on which they prefer.
    There are a number of approaches to re-capturing audience attention but before resorting to what may be perceived as parlor tricks if misused. Also, an approach that may appeal to one group, may be a complete turn-off when used with others. 

Options for Getting the Group's Attention

  1. Train whistle.
  2. Chimes.
  3. Bells.
  4. Flickering lights (like in the theater).
  5. Saying "if you can hear my voice clap once, if you can hear my voice clap twice, if you can hear my voice clap 3 times.
  6. Playing a specific piece of music. 
  7. Tapping on a glass like at a wedding and asking participants to do the same and focus their attention on the speaker.

If this isn't working, try speaking with a mike if you haven't been using one, standing in silence, speaking quietly or whispering. I recently saw Canadian football legend Pinball Clemon use speaking quietly and whispering very effectively with a group. Now this group wasn't at all rowdy as Pinball is a very engaging speaker, but I discussed with him using these approaches to re-capture group attention and he agreed that this would work very effectively.

Pinpointing the Cause of Rowdiness

If you've made several attempts to get the group's attention and cross-talk or rowdiness continue to be of concern, ask the group if a 5-minute break to re-fill coffee would be of benefit. Be sure to keep it to 5 minutes.

There is something important to consider. Inattention may be a sign that the group finds the topic uninteresting, a repetition of content they already know or simply irrelevant. Under any of these scenarios, it is extremely important to pause, check-in, get to the root of the problem, and do an impromptu mid-course correction.

Give the group 5 minutes to consider one or more of the following questions and record the response on a keynote pad or "How are we doing?" form. at their tables about how the session is going so far. Ask:

  • What are 2 specific take-aways that you can definitely use when you return to work?
  • Is the current topic relevant or is it time to move on? What focus would be of more interest?
  • What specific question about this topic do you want the speaker to address?
  • What are 2 specific ways for us to ensure that the rest of the session is beneficial?

Give the group a 5-minute energy break while you review the feedback with your key client contact. When you re-convene, review any areas of concern. Enlist the help of the group in problem-solving and charting the course for the rest of the session.

Photo Credits: Tom Brogen, Bob Pike Group

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