Meeting hijacked? How to regain control

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You’re standing at the front of the room, speaking with conviction and commanding attention, when suddenly someone interjects, interrupting mid-presentation.

In the blink of an eye you’ve lost control. Someone has hijacked your meeting.

Even worse, you’re now standing alone in front of the room while everyone’s attention has been diverted elsewhere. When the attention of everyone in the room is no longer on you, the challenge, according to executive coach Anita Stadler, is not knowing what to do with yourself.

At a recent leadership event, Dr. Stadler offered three keys to regain control after someone hijacks your meeting.

Be conversational, not confrontational
Whatever you do, don’t try to confront or embarrass the individual who interrupted you. “When you’re presenting,” Stadler warns, “there’s an unwritten rule that you have power. If it appears that you’re taking advantage of that power by embarrassing someone, it will turn your audience against you.”

Give the group a choice
To regain control, bring your audience along with you. “At some point, that person is going to take a breath,” Stadler says. When they do, this is your moment. Seize it to enlist the entire group or the senior leader present in making a decision on how to proceed. “Say something like, ‘It looks like this has sparked an important conversation’ and then give them a choice," Stadler advises.

"Ask, 'Would you like to take a few minutes now to discuss this or do you want to me to go ahead and finish sharing the information I have for you?’ If it’s clear that the side conversation is a diversion, the group will probably request that you continue.”

If the group chooses discussion, then let them have that discussion.Tell them you’ll step back into the conversation at the appropriate point.

Why cede control in this way? “Your presentation might have sparked something important for them," Stadler says. "Perhaps they have a wider view of what is going on. They may have key pieces of information that have bearing on what you’re talking about. It might be a good thing for the organization to have that discussion.”

Don’t stay standing
What you do in a meeting is as important as what you say, so mind your body language. “If they want to have a conversation,” Stadler counsels, “sit down.”

Take a seat up front or stand to the side while the group deliberates. As soon as they resolve the issue, step to the front again and resume control. If you’re not sure what to say, Stadler suggests referencing the value of the conversation that your presentation has sparked.

With these three keys you can deftly handle a hijacking, sidestep confrontation, let the group choose how to proceed and ultimately regain control of your meeting.

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Jo Miller, a women’s leadership speaker and founding editor of, has hosted the NEW Leadership Academy webinar series since 2013.

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