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There's one in every crowd Featured

10:05am EDT July 22, 2002

Every time I checked in on the seminar in progress, it seemed like the same individual was interrupting the trainer to ask questions. When the person came back from one of the breaks, someone had written a note on his yellow pad: We came to hear the trainer, not you.

Later, I learned that the trainer himself had written the message.

Even the best meeting planners and presenters are routinely surprised by problem personalities that could easily derail a well-planned meeting. You can't predict or prevent such problems.

But once you spot the problem, there are techniques that a presenter can use to keep a meeting on track and diffuse a disruptive situation.

Here are the types of problem personalities and how to deal with them:

  • The Dominator: To divert attention from this type of personality, be sure to specifically call on other individuals in attendance. Always acknowledge an individual's contribution and then ask for other opinions. When a "dominator" is persistent, ask him or her to help you by taking notes of other comments; this will keep the person busy and, more importantly, quiet.

  • The Subject Changer: Make your agenda well-known to everyone by posting it in a conspicuous place or providing individual copies to all attendees. While getting off the subject can at times prove productive, sticking to the original agenda is usually more productive. Should an important side issue arise, suggest another meeting to address it in greater detail.

  • The Irrelevant Inquirer: Once again, dealing with the person who consistently interrupts with meaningless questions is best handled by making sure your agenda remains the focus throughout your meeting. However, offering to meet at a later time or during a break with an individual will help you avoid offending anyone.

  • The Sidelong Conversationalist: Often simply putting an individual on the spot will solve this problem. Simply ask his or her opinion about the topic of discussion. This brings the individual back into the group and sends a clear message. It's not exactly, "Would you like to share your secret with the class?" but it makes the same point.

  • The Disinterested Attendee: Always begin by making sure the attendees are appropriate for the topic to be discussed. When choosing the meeting format, be considerate of your audience. Over 50 percent of a presentation's impact on an audience will be visual, compared to 10 percent verbal. That means you should always use a variety of media such as handouts or audiovisual presentations. Don't forget to inject a little bit of fun as well. Humor and fun, correctly used, can energize your group.

  • The Holdout: As with side conversations, singling a person out can often bring him or her into a conversation. Acknowledging someone's specific expertise can also be effective to show you need everyone's involvement. To loosen up a group, try "passing the buck" by actually tossing a ball to someone and asking his or her opinion. Having attendees then pass the ball to someone else works great with any size group.

    Francis Girard is president and owner of The Forum Conference Center in Cleveland, which can be reached at (216) 241-6338.