The Art of Filling

Sweating speakerHave you ever been sat in the audience whilst a nervous-looking, unprepared and slightly sweaty person has had to ‘fill’ an unplanned gap in the schedule?

Unless you’re watching a professional stand-up comedian, there’s not many more painful things that you can witness on stage.

It’s painful for the audience because with every word the ‘filler’ utters, they become more and more aware that they are waiting.

Waiting only has two outcomes – fulfilment (when the expected/advertised speaker arrives) or frustration (when the speaker doesn’t arrive). Every word the filler utters increases their frustration.

Lest we forget that it’s painful for the person filling too.

It’s not their fault that as the most senior / most confident / most mouthy they got pushed on stage to speak. And rest assured, they are just as aware of how painful this is becoming too…

But it doesn’t have to be this way…

In my experience, anyone tasked with filling will do their best to talk to the audience about a topic that meets two criteria:

  • It is of interest the audience
  • It is a topic that the filler knows something about

And so the filling becomes an everlasting ramble on a topic that in reality only 50% of the audience is even remotely interested in…and so the frustration begins.

So what is the remedy?

The remedy is exactly the same one that you might use to placate an impatient child – distraction.

When acting as the filler, distraction involves getting the audience involved in the process of filling.

It’s tough to become impatient if your brain is distracted by being asked to focus elsewhere.

So next time you’re asked to fill, don’t try to fill all by yourself – get your audience involved too!

Potential distraction filler examples include:

A 15 second introduction session – ask each audience member to stand up and quickly introduce themselves and their business to the room. The majority will welcome the networking opportunity and won’t become frustrated, as they’re focused on thinking of something to say!

The brainstorm – split the room into four groups and ask each group to brainstorm on an area of the event that could be improved. Your audience will be engaged and you will receive lots of sheets of ideas and feedback!

The burning question(s) – set up four flip charts or large pieces of paper around the room with an area that the speaker is due to cover. Divide the room into four groups and ask them to work together to generate questions that they would like to have answered by the forthcoming speaker. If you need to fill more time, ask the groups to rotate around the different topics.

When your speaker arrives, they will have four lists of questions that they need to answer. If they answer them all (and they should, they were late, after all!) then your audience will leave fulfilled and happy, despite the delay!

PS. Always ensure that any activity you put on to fill time has value for your audience .ie. either they are creating value for themselves, or they can clearly see how they are building something useful together.

If there is no value to the audience, they will quickly realise that they are wasting time, which quickly leads to the dreaded frustration!

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Rich Watts is the UK Business Speaker of the Year and a past JCI National Public Speaking champion. He setup and now runs Rich Public Speaking providing presentation skills and public speaking training.

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