A study by a Stanford researcher found that “listeners’ own conversational styles influence whether they interpret simultaneous, overlapping talk as interruptive or cooperative. We all have different opinions about how a good conversation is supposed to go” that help us determine if an interruption is just that or an opportunity to make a conversation more engaging.
Recently I had the opportunity to be a part of the Mastering Moderation workshop that was co-created by Hans Etman and Jan-Jaap In der Maur. One of the surprising things that I learnt at the workshop is that as an event host, sometimes it is nice and even a welcome gesture to interrupt people.
It seemed like a strange suggestion when I first heard it but then it hit me.
Think of the lively and meaningful conversations you have had in your life. Now think about some of the interviews you have listened to. Is there more of a similarity or a difference between them?
How often can we express ourselves for as long as we like without being interrupted? How common is it for someone to pipe in with a thought, a suggestion, a question that furthers the conversation even if it stops us in that moment?
Interruptions are a part of conversations and yet at formal conversations, there is a lack of them. Interruptions need not be someone cutting off the speaker verbally but even nods and shakes off the head, follow-up questions, asking for clarification could also count as interruptions. The interruption may not be of speech but of the conversation’s flow. And sometimes, in events it is very necessary.
As an event moderator/emcee, you have an obligation to the audience and once an event starts, you have to take responsibility for the feel of the event. You cannot consult every move with the organizer— neither is it possible nor is it a good idea to be dependent on a mixture of inputs when you are the one creating and maintaining the atmosphere for the event.
Event organizers are usually incharge of things like venue, food, etc. but the emcee is the expert when it comes to what is happening onstage. And you have to confidently accept the scope of your role. Take necessary action that’s inspired by creative freedom.
Imagine you are hosting a conference and it’s the latter part of the day. People are already fatigued and low on attention. If at that point, a speaker comes up onstage with a presentation that is visibly not engaging the audience, you have to take responsibility for rescuing the presentation. Interrupt the speaker, tactfully.
Use your own mic and start speaking to the speaker, while also involving the audience. You could ask brief questions that make the speaker interact more directly with the audience. This creates a change in the presentation, breaking the speaker out of their mode of delivery while also making the audience feel more engaged and alert. Small, considered interruptions are worth it to create a memorable event.