I’m forever thankful to have such an amazing group of people who join me for my events. However some people, for one reason or another, have their own agenda and these are the people you need to be mindful of.

So I thought today I’d share with you the signs you should look out for to help you detect potentially disruptive audience members to prevent any such situation escalating.

There are 6 types of difficult audience members that I want to highlight today;

Lateness and absenteeism

Man with Arms Crossed When I used to work in personal development I found that one or two participants would start being late or absent around days 3 and 4 of my trainings. Usually around this time the work we were doing would begin to require a deeper level of self analysis but rather than deal with their inner feelings, they would decide the training was not for them and lose focus.

You’ll find there are a few early indicators if you watch the non verbal communication (body language) of your audience members for signs of people

  • Staring out of the window
  • Chewing their pen
  • Sitting with crossed arms and a scowl on their face
  • Not participating when a question involves the audience raising their hands

Always be aware of the non verbal communication you are receiving from your audience. If someone is consistently demonstrating any of these warning signs, it will pay dividends if you can resolve the problem early on.


This type is trying to avoid the real issue of what is coming up in the training. The warning signs to watch out for are people

  • Clown MimePlaying the fool or acting the clown
  • Who don’t have the correct materials to complete the exercises
  • Announcing they have a headache or another malady that means they need to sit elsewhere

There could be a perfectly legitimate reason for any of these but often I find the truth is that they are attempting to cover up an inability to deal with what is really bothering them. Left alone, this kind of behaviour will be distracting and could sabotage the journey for everyone else.

Hostility or acting out

Fortunately this is a really rare occurrence but occasionally in longer trainings someone will become hostile towards you. They want all the attention of the group to be focused on them instead of you… and become aggressive when this doesn’t happen.

I’ve found the best way to manage this is to wait until you are sure you have the audience on your side. If you try and face this situation or become defensive before the sympathy of the audience lies with you, the risk is that you may be perceived as the bad guy.


The manipulator wants to make the learning specific to their individual situation and will often ask questions to convert the experience from the group into their own personal journey.

For example, they may ask a question like “how do you see that working for a small business with three employees where two are middle aged women and the other is a school leaver?”. The question is so specific there is no benefit to the group in spending time and focus on it.

So I’d usually respond with something like “that’s a great question but it is very specific so the best thing to do is raise it with one of the crew during the breaks”

Recognise when someone is trying to manipulate the experience for their sole benefit and don’t allow them to lead the group off their own course.

The fall guy or victim

Bad Back DramaThese people might be struggling to keep up with the rest of the group during the exercises or they arrive late because their car broke down or their train was late. There is always an unfortunate problem that befalls them and means they are unable to do this thing or that thing.

Watch carefully for this type as they create drama around themselves which can sabotage the experience for others. I’d suggest asking one of your crew members or event manager to work with this person 1:1 during the break so they can be supported away from the main group.

The brown noser

Otherwise known as Teacher’s Pet, this is the person who always rushes to answer questions first and generally wants to impress. This is attention seeking behaviour… They want your focus.

It can be so tempting to play along… having someone so engaged with your content is an enormous ego boost. However, if you don’t recognise this for what it is, you run the risk of alienating the rest of the group who could feel you are showing favouritism.

You don’t want to make any enemies in your audience so handle this with tact. I would respond with “thank you very much for that but [their name] has already answered several questions today so how about we let someone else have a go this time… would that be ok?”

They aren’t going to say no… and you can bring the rest of the group back in to contribute. If the problem crops up again, ask one of your crew to sensitively broach it with the person during the next break.

So these are the six most common types of audience members that might present a disruption at your event. How many have you experienced? how did you manage the situation? Leave me a comment and let me know.

One Response to “How to spot the 6 people who disrupt your events”

  1. Thanks for the refresher…all good valid points to remember. They even help in the business networking arena…I’ve noticed that networking events require the same skills as a presenter to avoid being railroaded.

    It seems everybody has an agenda and you need to attend events with eyes wide open even if you are not presenting. Maybe you should do a post on the best ways to navigate around an event…from the point of view of the attendee. I often look at my classes form this perspective to make me improve constantly.

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