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How to Deal with Audience Feedback

We asked the Presenter Network ‘How do you deal with unsolicited audience feedback mid-presentation?’. Here's How the Professionals Deal with Audience Feedback
Presenters at a conference
© Royal Observatory Greenwich

We asked the Presenter Network ‘How do you deal with unsolicited audience feedback mid-presentation?’.

Here’s How the Professionals Deal with Audience Feedback

Positive feedback is easy to thank and move past, negative feedback can be harder. If someone is giving negative feedback/constructive criticism in the middle of a presentation, (unless the feedback was entirely wrong/misguided/rude) I would thank them, say something along the lines of “that’s a really interesting idea/thought, I’d be happy to talk more with you after this session has ended” and continue with the original presentation. It also helps to be very confident in why you are presenting in the way you are, especially if you are presenting content that you yourself haven’t developed. Em – STEM educator/communicator.
Depending on whether it’s the client or the public would determine my answer. However, generally I would listen to the feedback intently and thank them for taking the time to let me know. If it was genuinely suitable for improved future performance I would take it on board. Phil – presenter.
This is a tricky one. Over the years I have had to develop a thick skin. I am a perfectionist and I was really thrown when people would make unsolicited comments. I have now learned to accept that you can’t please everyone all of the time and that often the critics will speak up louder than people who enjoyed it. I can have hundreds of positive reviews but it is the few negative reviews that hurt, like an arrow right into the heart! I try and bring it back and recognise that everyone will have their own views, many of which I won’t necessarily agree with, but they are just that, their own views, and there is nothing that I can do about it, so I try not to waste energy on worrying about it. Emma – lecturer and science communicator.
My advice is to stay calm , be polite, authentic and honest in your reply. Jane- presenter
If it’s about my voice (too fast, too quiet) then I will keep that in mind and adjust accordingly. If it’s about what I’m saying (they’re not understanding, finding it boring), I will poll the audience and then do my best to adapt – this is coming from a classroom setting though, where it’s easy to change such things. I try to avoid it by stating upfront the times that I will be taking questions, and just ignoring people any other times. Bryony – astronomer.
For hecklers/people who just want to have an argument (I usually chair panel style events at science festivals and it can get a bit emotive) I say ‘Thanks for your comment, we’d all like to be able to hear from the speaker so I’m going to ask them to carry on, there will be a chance to ask questions at the end’ or ‘one of the reasons we are here is to enable discussion so thanks for your contribution, we are going to move on now so others have a chance to speak’ or ‘it must have been really difficult to ask that question when you feel so strongly that we are in the wrong so thank you for sharing your perspective on it too, it’s why we are here, we’d like to hear what other people think. Hazel – works in academia
This all depends on who is asking and what they are saying, in a controlled audience situation such as a school group a gentle reminder to keep questions to the end is a first step, with the more open groups such as public audiences and home educators I find it best to try and respond quickly and try to get back on topic or as a last resort if being nice hasn’t worked ignoring the feedback or disruptions for long enough will have the desired effect of stopping the interruptions, but with this one always try to answer their questions at the end to show you knew they were there but were waiting for a better time to talk to them on a 1:1 basis. Laurence – museum manager.
Engage with the interruption. If you are quick on your feet it may be possible to turn it to your advantage. Michael – science communicator.
I try to set expectations before the event. Virtual: I tell the Zoom participants there will be Q&A after each session, and to feel free to put their questions in the chat as they think of them. In-Person: I tell people during the small group sessions I’ll be walking around and they can ask me questions. I’ve only been interrupted once, I answered the question and then reminded people to wait until the breakouts. Danielle – graphic designer, photographer, and visual problem solver.
​Even professional comedians have difficulty with hecklers, so unless you really know what you’re doing, try not to engage on their level. If the input is just unhelpful-at-this-time, rather than just being insulting (or a discipline issue with school groups, which is a different situation), you can acknowledge it, and cover most things with a phrase saying you’ll return to that point towards the end and perhaps look at alternatives too. Ed – astronomer
I love it. If it is relevant you weave it in and it becomes part of the show. If it is less relevant you deal with it as quickly as possible and move on – although if it is online you can just gloss over. Marty – presenter.
© Royal Observatory Greenwich
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