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DE-ESCALATING A DETRACTOR: Workshop & Presentation Preparedness

Wade Coffin, author

Nearly every presenter will experience “detractors”: attendees who speak up, weigh in and try to redirect the discussion. They’re distracting, and they put the presentation’s objectives and planned outcomes at risk. For a workshop leader, responsible for presenting a complete agenda in carefully-allotted time, a detractor’s concerns can derail everyone’s focus and drain the positive, constructive energy from the room.

Follow these steps to manage “detractor situations” that arise in your meetings:

Step 1) Know who will be in the room before you walk into the room. It’s helpful to explore why and how each invited team member is expected to participate, if possible. If the stakes are high, interview participants in advance of the meeting to both introduce the agenda and get ahead of any concerns.

Step 2) Set a confident, energetic tone at the start of the meeting. Remind the audience why they’re attending and itemize the meeting’s end goals. This can help reign in off-topic remarks or questions and keep the audience engaged.

Step 3) Assess the detractor’s role in either furthering or blocking progress. Depending on their level, you will address each detractor’s challenge(s) differently. Those in leadership will merit some pause to address their concerns and perhaps an invitation to a more in-depth conversation later. ­

Step 4) Demonstrate willingness to listen. There’s power in signaling empathy and asking, “Can you tell us more about your point of view?” This creates opportunity to assess how solvable the challenge is in the moment. You’ll serve as a model for reasonable openness, even if you choose a restrained response.

Step 5) Voice a clear, immediate decision on how to address the challenge. Is the issue the detractor raised going to continue distracting others if you don’t address it? If not, perhaps you can move if offline without appearing dismissive.

You can do this by offering to “park” the comment on a white board for later consideration, or by offering a quick break so you can address the detractor directly, in private. This may help you better understand how to integrate the concern into the workshop.

No “live” event will be perfect, and the best course of action will always be to anticipate and work through issues with naysayers before the workshop or presentation. But by following these steps, you can signal you’re open to different points of view — while keeping control of your meeting.


IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS is an article series from Bluedog Design’s most creatively strategic minds, launched to engage the many challenges and emerging opportunities facing the business leaders of today and tomorrow.

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