Taking Control of the Room

Joel Mowbray is a nationally known syndicated columnist who spoke at a suburban home in Marin County last night, and gave a superb example of how to take control of a room. The event was to be a small gathering primarily to hear Joel, but also to enjoy the group and drinks and appetizers. Ended up more came than expected, so it was packed with over 125 people squeezed into a living room - overflowing into two other rooms and halls. Couldn’t move much, much less eat or have a glass of wine.

I thought that with this crowd, all standing uncomfortably,  Joel would just give a few remarks and tell people to enjoy the party. But he did so much more, and kept everyone’s rapt attention for over 45 minutes!

Here’s how he handled it. (And in the same form we give feedback in our Communicate To Influence program, let me mention 3 Keepers and 3 Improvements.)


  • He came out strong. He didn’t apologize for the circumstance, but just began speaking, with a strong voice, humor and confidence.
  • Great behavior. He has a great smile, open manner, gave insider asides, his voice carried with no mic, had energy, gestures and movement. He showed care and candor…
  • Content. He was interesting. He was authentic as he had lived the experiences he talked about. Lots of stories made his very focused points. Joel did all the behaviors, but it ultimately was his content that carried the day. Impressive, authoritative…

Improvements (only ones are in the Q&A Session):

  • Joel's eye communication was to each questioner, and he held it. It's always best to start your answer looking at the questioner for the first 10 seconds or so, and then continue the answer looking at other individuals in the entire audience. This frees your mind to broaden your answer, and avoids this next problem...
  • He got into dialogues with some long winded questioners. By continuously looking at them they could easily feel they were in a conversation, and break in and give their opinions, or begin dialogues or arguments. And they did - this was a verbal group. We (the audience) came to hear the speaker. We’re interested in Mowbray’s opinions, not some strangers.
  • He went too long. The Q&A turned out to be over 25 minutes, and he should have stopped it sooner by saying, “We have time for one more question."

But the improvements were minor compared to the impact he had, and how skillfully he spoke. He handled the room, and the audience was the better for it.

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