Dealing with difficult people at your community events

Recently I was fortunate enough to speak on a panel discussion about User Experience Design for Academy Xi.

During the event, one disruptive attendee repeatedly interrupted the panel and aggressively demanded answers to his questions. The many thought-provoking and incisive questions from the audience were overshadowed by this person’s escalating and deeply inappropriate stories and behaviour.

This attendee created an uncomfortable and unsafe atmosphere during the evening, and the overall experience suffered.

If you attend industry events, please know this is not something you simply have to tolerate as the cost of entry.

After the event, Academy Xi and the panelists came together to discuss how to better manage this behaviour, and have created new procedures to improve the way we prevent and handle similar incidents.

The number one commitment to my community is this: We participate in an inviting, respectful, and collaborative environment.

Here are our new procedures:

  • All attendees agree to the community's Code of Conduct to RSVP to events.
  • At the beginning of the event, the host lets the audience know there is a Code of Conduct in place and transgressions are not tolerated.
  • If anyone—attendee, speakers, sponsor or host—behaves against the Code of Conduct, they are made aware of this early. They are asked to stop this behaviour and to respect the Code of Conduct. If this first incident is very serious, the person is asked to leave the event immediately.
  • If the person behaves against the Code of Conduct again, they are asked to leave the event.
  • The host focuses attention back on the community and carries out the remainder of the event.
  • After the event, the host reaches out to the person and lets them know their behaviour was inappropriate and that they’re not welcome at future events.
  • The host reaches out to event attendees, speakers and sponsors and apologises for the poor experience.
  • Outline any changes to the management of future events, and any improvements to the Code of Conduct.
  • Reiterate your commitment to creating enjoyable experiences for the community.
  • Encourage community members to reach out if they’d like to make any comments or discuss the event.

As event organisers, we can’t dismiss this type of incident. It is up to us to act swiftly and appropriately when unacceptable behaviour occurs. When we ignore it, it makes us complicit.

Prioritise the respect you have for your community above the awkwardness of talking to someone about their behaviour.

Stand by your decisions and stand up for your community. Set the standards for participating, enforce those standards, and have tough conversations early.

People who respect your community standards are more important than those who don’t.