Either way, the speaker is not taking charge of the situation, leaving the rest of the audience, also with questions, tapping their feet, looking at the clock, and feeling ignored.
Unlike a true heckler, the person dominating Q&A is not trying to put you down or make you look bad. Like a heckler, however, this person does want a lot of personal attention which, as the presenter, you cannot give at the expense of other audience members.
How do you handle this needy person?
1. The multiple question-asker
When someone says, "I have a couple of questions," one way to deal with it is to take the first question and ask her if she can save the other two until others have asked theirs. You will immediately nip in the bud the first kind of dominating questioner. If you run out of time for everyone's questions, let them know you'll stay after for a few minutes if people want to talk, or ask them to contact you by e-mail with additional questions.
The person might not tell you she has more than one question, but you soon discover that there are multiple questions coming, and it's too late to stop it. In this case, try to give a general answer that covers some of her concerns, and again, suggest talking more afterward so you can more specifically address her particular issues. Then move on.
2. The conversationalist
Sometimes a person asks a question, you answer it, and then he just continues to converse with you, adding details and sometimes sneaking in a "follow-up" question or two. This is a difficult situation, because you feel rude if you cut him off mid-sentence, but you know you have to stop the flow.
When it appears that this person will continue talking or is going to sneak in another question, don't let it go on and on. Jump in when he takes a breath for air with a comment like, "That's a really common concern. Thanks for bringing that up. Does someone else have a question they'd like to ask?" Just do it. Be assertive. Don't be rude, but cut the cord.
3. The storyteller
This is the person who stands up and starts talking about her own experience, but never actually formulates a question. These stories can go on indefinitely. Again, you need to be polite but firm. When the person takes a breath or when you can sense any kind of break coming, jump right in with, "Wow, that must have been scary. I'm glad you survived. Do you have a question?"
If the person cannot put together a question, you need to take control and say, "I'm going to move on to the next person with a question. If you'd like to talk after the presentation, I'll be around for a little while."
Managing Q&A is a skill developed through practice. It's not just about knowing the answers; it's also about crowd control. Be assertive but caring. Let the audience member know that you hear him and that you value what he has to say. But never let someone dominate the room; you will see your audience's eyes glaze over and you will their interest and maybe not regain it.
Share your strategies for handling the Q&A dominator below!
And for more on dealing with hecklers, go here:
Hecklers, the original backchannel
Dealing with hecklers download