I am not here to discuss the Smith-Rock contretemps that distracted from Questlove receiving his first Best Documentary Feature Oscar for the brilliant and emotionally powerful “Summer of Soul” – many far more qualified than me have weighed in – but just after we all watched it happen in shock and disbelief, my friend, the television host and fitness couturess, Bianca Jade DM’d me and asked the salient question: What do you do when a presentation or job spirals completely out of control?
Luckily, what occurred at the Oscars is an anomaly but sadly, it is not uncommon for hosts and reporters in the field to encounter a hostile public or for people on panels and giving speeches or presentations to have to deal with intense or aggressive audience members. There are plenty of viral clips of these incidents.
The goal in any situation is to respond instead of react – even if you are itching for a justified take-down. Unless you are an experienced stand up and we are there for the comedy, you want to defuse and change the energy. Think: Do I want to be right or happy? Because letting go of the need to be right leads to peaceful outcomes.
This is easier said than done when you feel threatened and your body goes into fight/flight/freeze mode. Start practicing now, today, by being self-aware anytime you feel that ping! from an emotional trigger. Start noticing how your body reacts. Does your chest tighten? Stomach and/or jaw clench? Heart rate jump? Breath quicken – or you stop breathing?
Here’s a quick checklist to help you respond instead of react and regain control of the moment when you are faced with a hostile audience member:
1. Breathe. Pause and take a couple of deep breaths.
2. Check-in with yourself: Am I okay? Am I safe?
3. Change the energy and de-escalate the situation (presuming you are safe) with intention by relaxing your body (see deep breaths above) and staying present.
4. Acknowledge and validate the other person i.e. I see that you are upset or I can tell this is very important to you or…Even if it feels personal, it’s about them, not you.
5. Ask clarifying questions if appropriate – calmly engaging the other person helps them to lower their heart rate and their intensity.
Helpful tools include developing a meditation practice and comedy improv training.
I would love to hear how you handle this. Please comment below or shoot me an email.