The toughest room I had this month

After a month of promoting Confessions as hard as I can, and doing more than 30 talks or media appearances in the last talks in 4 weeks, I finally have some down time.

18 Responses to “The toughest room I had this month”

  1. Drew @ Cook Like Your Grandmother

    Assuming you had wireless mic and wireless pointer/slide control … while still talking, walk right up the middle of the room into the cafeteria. Look for an empty chair at a table about two or three rows in from the edge. Bonus points of the rest of the table is exceptionally noisy. Sit on that chair — or stand, if you really want attention — and keep doing your talk.

    For the 15-20 minutes it takes for that wave of people to eat, you’ll at least have one corner of the room thinking, “Oh, we should probably be a little courteous to that dude.”

    Once the din recedes a little, walk back to the podium, and the whole time keep doing your talk as though nothing was happening.

    It might not actually help objectively, but the audience will get the idea.

  2. Scott Berkun

    Good idea in theory, but 3 problems in this case:

    1) It was being filmed, so I had to stay at the front
    2) The wireless lapel mike was not working, so I had to use the lectern mike
    3) The rows of seats, as pictured, would have to turn around in their chairs to watch if I went in the cafeteria

    But the idea of making the cafe part of the room by going into it is interesting.

    You’re also making me think it would have been smart to put up signs in the hall, and in the area of the cafe right by the lecture, to let people know they should be quieter than usual.

  3. Scott Berkun

    Interesting: if the back-channel is a separate stream about the event, what do you call the noise in the background that’s about something else entirely? The side-channel?

  4. Sharon Roy

    Scott -> Interesting: if the back-channel is a separate stream about the event, what do you call the noise in the background that

  5. Mike Nitabach

    I was recently serving on an NIH peer review panel in a hotel conference room. There was another panel occurring simultaneously in the adjoining conference room. Unfortunately, this was one of the reconfigurable spaces where the wall between the conference rooms was one of those movable doohickeys, and it was way undersoundproofed. The murmuring coming from the other room was surprisingly distracting, even though it wasn’t too loud.

    In terms of what you could have done, the fact that you staying at the podium in that specific room was non-negotiable pretty much eliminates all reasonable options. If that were not a constraint, I would have said to the audience, “This noise is really annoying. Whaddya say we go outside (assuming that it was the usual beautiful weather in Mountain View) and I’ll talk to you there?”

  6. Simon Raybould

    You had to use the lectern Mic? Really? In a room that small? I know, I know, easy for me to say ‘cos I wasn’t there, but unless the background noise was REALLY, R E A L L Y loud a well projected voice should work.

    I notice you refer to mics a lot in your writing but I’m always sceptical of them – what would an actor have done in that situation, rather than a presenter?

    Interesting that you described the host as cool – I think if anyone had done that to me I’d have been referring to them as an ‘EX’ friend! :) :) :)


  7. Scott Berkun

    Simon: Since they were videotaping, they needed a audio track from the mic for the recording.

  8. Jose Paez

    I guess a lesson is to always try to get to know where you’ll be speaking. I would believe such a thing might be hard to do when on a tour, but I know that tip always helps formula 1 drivers and pretty much anyone who wants to be prepared. Possibly already in your book (which I haven’t read, I know, shame on me) but that is what came to my mind while reading. That and the opportunity to use the situation as a way to explain your point and be extra loud or even make a quick poll you can use for your next book :) – “in our situation, what do you find the most annoying?”

  9. Scott Berkun

    I should also note that a room like this is a sneak attack situation – at 11:50, when i took the 2nd photo above, it was quiet. But at 12:05, when we were going, it was a different story.

  10. Jose Paez

    I kept thinking and I have another suggestion: Tell your audience that on a count of 3 everyone should laugh as hard as they can, that will shift the attention of the people at the cafeteria into the room, some people will join and get the joke while others will just wonder but surely will lower the tone of voice (happens in public spaces), plus your audience will acknowledge the noise, be happy they were part of the solution and will have a laugh at the situation afterwards. You can use this everytime the noise grows in the back and by the end everyone will be laughing for real.

  11. Lisa Braithwaite

    What a drag! I imagine that the distraction factor for you was the worst part of this whole thing.

    I don’t have a counter-move; my suggestion would have been to find out about the space in advance. I’m a huge stickler about this, having also spoken in rooms that had loud A/C or other equipment, or had blindingly bright open windows, or noisy neighbors, etc.

    If you had known in advance what the room would be like, you might have asked for a different room altogether. But even knowing about it in advance and being unable to switch would have allowed you to mentally prepare for the turmoil, and definitely to address it with the audience.

  12. Olivia Mitchell

    Hi Scott

    This is a really tricky situation. I really understand that rattled feeling which then sends you onto autopilot. Here are some thoughts:

    1. I wonder if acknowledging the problem would have helped. For example you could say:

    “I’m finding this room really noisy and distracting. How are you finding it? [if nobody else is finding it a problem, then carry on, but if they’re finding it a problem then ask] Does anybody have any ideas about what we could do?”

    If nobody else is bothered by it, once you know that, you’ll probably be able to get over it. And if they are bothered by it, they may have some ideas eg: a free meeting room that you could move to, or all squash in together a bit more etc.

    2. Only real solution to this is prevention (I know that’s not much good when you’re in the thick of it – but it can help prevent future similar problems). The best form of prevention is to have a simple one-page pdf with your venue and technical requirements that you send out to the host well before the speech.


  13. Scott Berkun

    I like Jose’s suggestion too. Anything that lets the people in the other rooms know we’re there might have helped.

  14. Scott Berkun

    Couple of other factors worth mentioning:

    1. This was not the organizer’s scheduled room. They were bumped here a day or so before, so the room wasn’t their choice either.

    2. It wasn’t loud right away, so there was this gradual, intermittent, realization it was a problem, rather than a consistently loud background noise. It was hard, while speaking, to sort out exactly how much of an issue I had, and there was reason to assume, each time it got quite again, that it was over.

  15. Percy

    I’m wondering whether it would’ve helped if you didn’t have to see the people (in the cafeteria) as well as hear them. Maybe not having the people’s movements distract you could’ve made the noise a bit more manageable? (Could the organizers arranged for a screen / curtain of some sort?)

  16. Ted

    Hey Scott,
    I was there and have to say that if you were rattled by the noise, you handled it well



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