Tips for handling difficult delegates

You've organised the venue, planned the event, registrations via your online delegate registration system are coming in and everything is shaping up well for your forthcoming event. All too soon, however, you realise some of your delegates are difficult characters - what do you do?

The organisation of an event requires a number of elements to work in tandem for success, and many of these you can control, such as the location, theme and running order. However, the delegates attending your event will potentially be an unknown quantity, and thus out of your control. Be prepared for difficult delegates by taking a look at our participant personas.

The domineer

At any event there will often be one person who dominates the group, talking a lot or acting as a channel for the rest of the attendees in that they express their views as those of the whole group and also answer for others. They may also frequently interrupt other speakers.

To avoid the domineering delegate taking over any discussions, try

- Using summarising to show you've heard what they have said but retained control - Posing closed questions - Reducing your eye contact with that specific person - Ask them to let you - or another speaker - finish expressing their thoughts.

The know-it-all

Some delegates want to express what they feel to be their expert views at regular intervals, often arguing with other participants and constantly vying for attention. This delegate persona is the know-it-all, and you can deal with their behaviour by

- Asking them questions rather than challenging their statements - Paraphrase what they say - Invite comment from others at the event to redirect focus away.

The detached delegate

You might notice at some of your events that there are some delegates who appear thoroughly disinterested in the topics under discussion or the products being showcased. They might seem to be doodling, gazing out of the window or generally looking sleepy.

This type of detached delegate might genuinely feel tired - especially if it's after lunch, or find doodling helps them concentrate and stimulates creativity. Alternatively, they might want to ask a question but feel too intimidated to ask. In these instances, try

- Organising an energising activity to beat the post-lunch slump - Establishing eye contact - Making shy delegates feel welcome with warm smiles or by chatting to them during breaks.

The conflicting pair

Sometimes, you might find you have a couple of delegates who are keen to express their opinions and verbally duel with one another at your event. This can be an unnerving and tricky situation to handle, but there are ways to diffuse things.

If you find the conflicting delegates are getting out of hand, or taking over the discussion, try the following tips

- Stay impartial and invite comment from the rest of the group - Emphasise any areas of agreement they share - Use humour to relieve tension where appropriate - Make it clear you understand both elements of the argument without taking sides.

The staller

Stallers can hamper progress at events by interrupting discourse with anecdotes or examples that are either unrelated to the subject matter or that haven't been formed with particular insight. To avoid the focus of the event being lost, try

- Asking them how their remarks relate to the subject - Probing what their underlying concerns might be - Trying to find some relevance in their examples and giving them pointers to expand further.

The diffident delegate

Some delegates might be quite shy and afraid to join in debate, but this doesn't mean they hold the same views as those who are more willing to talk. You can encourage participation among quieter or diffident delegates and potentially get a wider range of views or ideas in the following ways

- Get them involved early on with some simple questions they can answer confidently - Devote your whole attention to them when interacting so they feel they have your interest - Speak to them before the session or during breaks to ease any nerves and give them the confidence to speak in debate.

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