Association leaders often find themselves in the awkward position of planning an event, executing it, and then being the catch-all for complaints. Usually it’s a small price to pay for the success of the event, but sometimes an association pro finds him or herself in the middle of a very uncomfortable situation: dealing with a rude attendee. You’re tasked with making sure everyone’s enjoying themselves and getting the benefits they paid for, but there’s just some rude person making the sessions and events tough to sit through.
Here are some examples of bad conference behavior we’re all familiar with:
Ned Noisy: The guy who is tapping his pen, slurping his coffee, crinkling his candy wrapper, running in late slamming doors and knocking over chairs, leaving his phone on and generally making it difficult for attendees to pay attention to the speaker.
Dominating Debbie: This person talks over others, interrupts, condescends, and constantly disagrees. Debbie treats every session like a round table she’s facilitating, even though many other members may want to participate as well or simply hear the speakers’ opinions.
Bored Bob and Andy Asleep: Everyone loves a dozer. Bob and Andy tend to be the least offensive of the rude crew, but heaven forbid Andy let out a big snore. Don’t laugh; I’ve seen it before.
Rude Roberta: Roberta covers all the impolite behavior Ned, Debbie, Bob and Andy haven’t covered. Taking up seats with her bag, eating during a session where food is not provided, accepting a phone call, carrying on a side conversation, and blocking the view are a few typical behaviors of Rhonda.
So what do you do as a leader of this event? Ned, Debbie, Bob, Andy and Roberta all paid to attend just like everyone else, but their behavior is making it tougher for the majority of attendees to reap the benefits of the sessions and possibly even souring the experience. That could mean no return attendance for your event next year. Here’s what you do:
Be polite: Don’t match rudeness with rudeness. Remember that even though they may not be in their best behavior, they paid to be here too!
Be direct: Don’t beat around the bush. Explain the behavior is interrupting the session and suggest a solution. Sometimes it’s awkward, but don’t waver or back-pedal. Honesty is best
Be understanding: 9 times out of 10 the person probably doesn’t realize they’re being rude. Be generous with second chances. The person may be embarrassed! Not all conferences are the same, and perhaps the member just didn’t know exactly how this one ran.
Redirect: Perhaps the attendee would be more suited to a more participatory discussion rather than an informative lecture. Looking at the schedule and picking an alternate session could be the solution!
Hopefully this isn’t a situation you’ll ever deal with. It’s a delicate situation when it comes up, but you can do it! Consider it a test of leadership and push through the awkwardness; the rest of your attendees will thank you for handling the situation.
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