The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is, not to frighten them, but to challenge them.Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924)
28th President of United States
What is a disturbance? We could see it as an emotional reaction to something, which doesn’t run as you had planned it. They are caused by a number of factors. Let’s have a look at dealing with disturbances.
If one of the participants is having problems seeing, hearing or writing then that is a technical issue. Interruptions from multimedia, computer or sound system should be dealt with promptly. While you take care of the problem, you could ask the participants to have a short break.
Otherwise, ask for help while you continue with your moderation. You could ask the hotel or seminar venue personnel to deal with it — or even the participants. This is the kind of situation in which having an assistant at your side to take care of the problem is very useful indeed.
There is almost no need to mention that other challenges — like not a broken marker pen — can be solved easily, assuming that you have at least some basic back-up options — in this case extra marker pens. If you consider this a disturbance, then you only have yourself to blame for your lack of preparation, which could have been avoided in 98 per cent of cases.
Many possible and seemingly impossible things may happen during a workshop. Most of them, if not all, can be avoided by proper preparation and communication. It should be clear, for example, that a participant can not just bring his friends to join for a couple of hours of a two-day workshop. If it is a closed workshop, with registered participants, you will have to politely remove the interlopers from the room.
Food isn’t served on time? Have you shared the programme with the hotel? If this is the case, you should just continue with the next session or do an energising game, which will give your audience a break until the food is ready.
Participants are standing at the airport without pick-up? For this, as every other problem you will face, you need to be flexible and come up with solutions in real time. In this case, you could suggest that the participants take a cab and get a bill, which can be reimbursed.
For all challenges that you face, it is advantageous to have an assistant who can jump in while you continue moderation. If you don’t then you will have to ask the hotel staff or call your office. For this kind of problems you shouldn’t involve the participants.
If you have to deal with something bigger on an urgent basis then you could give some group work to keep the participants busy for an extended period.
Disturbances from one or more of your participants are the highest priority problems. This kind of problem can mostly be excluded through proper preparation. As many so-called disturbances refer to the needs of participants a good way of predicting what might arise is to consult Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This will allow you to create an environment where the risk of disturbance is minimised. For dealing with difficult participants have a look here.
We need oxygen-rich, fresh air for concentration and energy. If the ventilation system is not working properly ask for it to be repaired or change seminar rooms. If not, schedule more breaks and open the windows. Also, the room temperature should be comfortable for everyone.
It should be within the verbal rules and regulations that everybody can excuse him- or herself to go to the washroom. If you notice that more and more people are leaving for the toilets then have a break — even if you haven’t scheduled it — as this creates unrest.
Make sure that water is always available. Coffee and tea should be there at least in the formal breaks. Some of us need it desperately!
Common wisdom suggests that the better the food the better the morale of the participants. But sometimes I wonder whether this is always the case. I have seen some seminars and workshops where people overloaded their plates and were hardly able to follow the after-lunch session due to postprandial sloth.
You should test the food at least once before you book the venue in order to check the quality and hygiene of the restaurant.
In some countries, for a bigger conference you have to arrange security, especially in case you are inviting high-profile guest speakers. Most importantly, this creates a feeling of safety in the audience and fosters an atmosphere of security, well-being and trust.
First of all, the group should be sure of everyone who is amongst them. They should be certain that they will not be disturbed by any outsider nor by a waiter who is likely to leer at female participants. It is your responsibility as the moderator to act. If an outsider comes in and sits down, you need to let him know in a friendly way that only registered participants are welcome and that you will be happy to invite him to one of the next seminars.
The seating arrangement is also important. If participants are sitting with their back to the door they won’t feel comfortable. Either change the seating or block the view of