I don’t often publicly criticize an event while it’s still happening – I don’t like to be a complainer – but this weekend at WordCamp Ottawa, I couldn’t help myself. On the morning of the first day, I tweeted out:
Getting tired of people interrupting speakers at #wcott. Unless they’ve invited questions during the talk, it throws off the speaker and most of the audience can’t hear you anyway. Be respectful.
I’d spent the morning watching speakers (all women, by the way) being constantly interrupted by audience members – most not even asking questions, but commenting on some aspect of the talk. I’ve never seen this happen as badly before at any event, WordCamp or otherwise. And you can’t blame an intimate room size as the culprit – this happened in a large auditorium.
That afternoon, a woman was giving a lightning talk, with a short amount of time to present. Smack dab in the middle of her presentation, a man piped up to voice disagreement with one of the examples she was showing. Audience conversation started rolling from there, and I could see the speaker – who’d never presented at a WordCamp before – start to look a little flustered, as her talk became completely derailed.
I was filled with rage. I’ve never done this before, but I had to say something.
“Let’s let her finish her talk. She only has seven minutes left, and she can take Q&A after.”
There was a small shocked silence. I’m not sure if I imagined it, but I might have heard a few murmurs of agreement.
The speaker finished the rest of her talk without interruption, and then took questions after.
Afterwards, a few people – including the speaker – thanked me for calling out the interrupter.
I don’t know what was in the air at WordCamp Ottawa this weekend, but I implore audience members to keep this in mind:
Your desire to express your opinion is not more important than the speaker’s right to finish their talk without being interrupted. Interrupting a speaker is disrespectful – you are throwing off their focus, disturbing their flow, and messing with their timing.
As a speaker, there are a couple of things you can do to curb this phenomenon. First, tell the audience your preference as you start the talk.
“We’ll have a good 5-10 minutes for questions at the end, so save them til after.”
“I don’t mind taking questions throughout the presentation, while they’re fresh in your mind. Just raise your hand and I’ll repeat it so the rest of the audience can hear.”
If someone interjects with a question or comment when you’ve asked people not to, remember that it’s your right to say:
“Thanks for the question. Let’s hold it til the end, and if I haven’t covered it during the rest of the talk I’ll be glad to address it then.”
Remember, you are in control of your talk. No one has the right to throw you off.