Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

How To Command Unruly, Alcohol Fueled Crowds

The Master of Ceremony (MC) goes to the microphone to get the programme underway but the audience are simply oblivious, caught up in their own riveting conversations.  The situation is much worse at receptions where alcohol is already flowing and the people down the back are generating a roar, a positive din, that drowns out the speakers.  Apart from bona fide members of Imperial Families, everyone is fair game in the "let’s ignore the speaker" stakes.  Cabinet Ministers, eminent speakers, famous personalities all struggle to get the attention of the crowd.  When it is our turn, what can we humble beings do about this?
Here are some ideas that will shut down the noisy rabble and provide a proper platform for the speaker to be heard. 
Make sure to turn off the background music well before you are ready to start.  Surprisingly, this is often forgotten by the organisers.  Speakers should not try to compete with irritating white noise in the background, so check this will be done before you are due to launch forth. 
Preferably always have someone else introduce you.  Their job is to quiet the room in preparation for your presentation.  This doesn't always go to plan though, because it can be a lucky draw on who introduces you.  Usually, they are not skilled speakers themselves and so they may do a lame job at best.
If you are in the MC role yourself, about to introduce the programme speaker, avoid the charisma by-pass problem of no presence in the room.  I recently saw a giant of a man, fulsomely mustachioed, boasting a hulking frame, draw up to the microphone and in a tiny faint voice try and call the assembled masses to order. He had absolutely no success, so even an imposing physical presence is no guarantee to cut through the clatter. 
On the other hand, if you worry about speaking behind high podiums and appearing to your audience as a stylish coiffure just peaking above the water line, always arrive early and have the event staff provide a small raised dais behind the podium for you.   We always want the audience to easily see our face.  Even better, dismiss the podium altogether, because now we can use our body language to maximum effect.  If you are using a laptop on the podium, turn it to the side, so that you can see the screen and stand facing the audience, so there are no barriers between you.  The technology should be at our command and not commanding us.
As noted, voice projection is key for cutting through crowd noise.  Today’s microphone technology is very good, so you don’t need to have a stentorian voice to be heard.  However, placing the microphone too close to your mouth creates dissonance, making it harder to hear you. Mysteriously, some speakers have the opposite problem and hold the microphone so low that there is almost no sound being heard.  These errors are easily avoided if you just hold the microphone about a hand’s spread in front of your mouth and speak across the top of the microphone mesh.
When you face a challenging noisy crowd, make sure to hit the first few words very hard.  To get things going, start with a strong "Ladies and Gentleman" with power invested into the first word and remember to draw that first word out slightly (Ladieeeeees).  Elongate it for effect but don’t overdo it .  Now include a small pause before a strong finish to the phrase. This will generally shut the room down and gather everyone’s focus on the speaker.  If it doesn’t produce that "hear a pin drop" silence, then go again with strong voicing of the next phrase, "May I have your attention please".  Again, add a pause and let peer pressure quiet your audience.  If it is still noisy, repeat this phrase once more and do not start until you have total silence.
I have seen speakers using assorted cutlery to bang on a glass, to create a chime that signals it is time to "shut up everyone and listen". It works, however, one word of warning - don’t speak while pounding.  Let the chime effect work for you and when the room pressure builds to a point where you have achieved silence, put the glass down, pause and then start.  Why pause?  This builds anticipation and curiosity, both of which work in our favour when trying to get attention to what we are saying.  Using pauses during your talk is also powerful for focusing everyone on the message you are delivering
Similarly, you can also use powerful music to drown out the crowd’s babble and make them listen to what is coming next.  Just a short piece will do, as it signals action is about to commence and people will switch their gaze to you at the front of the room.  After the music ends, again use a slight pause and then start.
We can’t be effective communicators if people are not listening, so our first task is to quiet the room.  Using these techniques will produce the right break in the chaos for your message to be heard.  Some final advice, don’t practice on your audience.  Spend time rehearsing your talk, so that you are confident and comfortable that you can command the room from the very start.
Action steps
Turn off the BGM well before you start
Have someone else quiet the room for you
Don’t allow the podium to dominate you
Practice with the microphones, so that you know the correct distance and angle of elevation to use
Hit the first word hard and elongate it slightly
Uses pauses – they add power to the speaker
If you strike a glass to produce a crowd-quieting chime, add a pause and then speak
A short burst of music can silence an audience and clear the way for you to start speaking
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