Speech of the Month, November 2019 - Fiona Bruce

Fiona Bruce won praise for her 'I'm in charge!' rebuke. How do you manage trying audience members?

Speech of the Month, November 2019 - Fiona Bruce

In the run up to a general election you’d probably expect my ‘speech of the month’ to go to one of the party leaders. I did too. And although my stand-out speech moment of November 2019 did happen during the Question Time Leaders Election Special, it was delivered by the show’s host, Fiona Bruce, not her political participants. 

In managing a problem audience member who would not stop interrupting, Bruce snapped at him, ‘Hang on a minute! I’m in charge of this thing!’ Her strong rebuke won her a round of applause from the studio audience and respect from viewers at home. Some commenting that she showed more leadership in ten seconds than the country has seen in the last ten years!   

Dealing well with the problem attendee (be they a person in a meeting you’re chairing or an audience member who won’t stop whispering to his neighbour during your presentation) is difficult; you’ve got enough to do and worry about without having to get the stick out too. But if you don’t do anything about it then you’re having to work over a super-distracting soundtrack and, especially if you’re chairing, other attendees will feel let down by you. Yet when you do bother to pause and challenge the problem person, you almost always go up in the estimations of on-lookers. 

So, before you get to the stage where you might have to have the person removed – and I hope it never comes to that but… – here are some tips to manage the pest:  

Rebuke with humour

If someone is on their first strike and you know they’re a bit of a chatterbox, not a first-rate problem causer, then rebuke with humour. Say something like, ‘Thanks Clare, you’re consistently reminding us what an undervalued skill listening is. But we have got it now.’ Or ‘Clare, if your sales leads were as constant as your chat, you’d have hit target back in June!’  

Stop until they’ve stopped

If you’ve got a whisperer on your hands then the best thing to do is stop and look at them. Everyone else in the room will then look at them too and soon this pest will feel the heat of all that eye gaze, realise what’s going on and usually desist. Wait it out though. Although, if it’s got to 15 seconds and he or she still hasn’t felt that heat then you will have to call their name. They’ll still be shocked when they see that chorus of heads staring at them.  


If you’ve already used one or even both of the above methods on the problem person and it hasn’t worked then, as Bruce did, go for the loud, firm chastisement. The trick, as you’re delivering your line, is to speak about your irritation rather than from it. Eye contact here is everything. After you’ve delivered your line, keep your eyes on your target for another few seconds. It sends out the message, 'I'm watching you, pal.' 

Make yourself vulnerable and ask for courtesy 

If it’s a senior person who’s making life tough for you and you don’t feel you could chastise them, well not without coming off badly from it, then a really effective thing to do is to make yourself vulnerable and ask for courtesy. If you were to say something like, ‘Look Ged, I don’t love presenting at the best of times, so your interruptions aren’t exactly bringing out the best in me. Let me get to the end and then you can ask me all the questions you want’ then Ged would have to be an extraordinary brand of nasty-pasty not to grant you your wish.   

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