How to interrupt someone during a panel discussion

How to interrupt someone during a panel discussion

Penny HaslamPanel Discussions - The Ultimate Guide - By Penny Haslam

How to interrupt. I hate being interrupted, but I do quite like butting in! In this post, I'll show you how to interrupt with finesse when you're leading a meeting or moderating a panel, and why it's crucial for managing time and guiding discussions.

I also share my verbal and non-verbal techniques for dealing with being interrupted. They are grounded in my real-world experience, so this is a must-read if you're aiming to up your communication skills.

About the author
Penny is an award-winning motivational speaker & event host.
She's the author of Panel Discussions - The Ultimate Guide

By Penny Haslam

MD and Founder - Bit Famous

Penny Haslam
Penny Haslam Podcast

How to interrupt someone - The joy of interrupting

Episode 30: Penny Haslam Podcast - The joy of interrupting

How to interrupt somone during a panel discussion. There's a skill to stopping someone from going on. My top tips on interrupting someone speaking during a meeting or on a panel discussion. 

I hate being interrupted. 

"Thank you for that. Thank you."

"We have to leave it there for now." 

"Could I just carry on and finish what I'm saying?" 

Interrupting is awful, isn't it? I am often interrupted. I interrupt, we just do it, especially in a family setting. And it's just how it is sometimes. However, there are times when you need to interrupt and I was thinking of a panel discussion I moderated a few years ago and I wished I'd been a bit better at interrupting back then. I've learned the art since and I've really become quite okay about interrupting in the right setting. 

So if you're chairing a meeting or hosting a panel discussion, that's when you need to know how to interrupt. (More on interrupting on p64 of my Panel Discussions book) 

It's not something we do on purpose in a normal meeting or in a normal discussion. We don't think "I've got to interrupt now, I'm going for it!" But when you're running the show, when it's your meeting, your chairing or it's your panel that you need to move on because you're running out of time or an individual is "going on a bit", then it's really important to interrupt. 

How to interrupt: If you are moderating a panel, don't apologise for interrupting, that's your job

A few years ago, I chaired a panel about Brexit. This was pre-Brexit and about how the law was going to cope. (At least I think so, I've chaired a lot of panels and they kind of blur into one.) 

Anyway, I came to the first panellist and posed the question. "Now", I said, "you know, John, what do you think of that point?" 

John went on and on and on. John just talked and talked. You know, lawyers sometimes do that. None of the other panellists could get a look in because it was the first question with the first sort of run at the answer. 

It felt a bit difficult to interrupt it and say, "We must move on for time. We have to leave it there now." But nowadays, I say, "Okay, I think in terms of keeping it on time, we should just ask someone else their opinion. So, Jeremy, what do you think, etcetera?" 

I wouldn't have a problem with that now but it takes a while to build up to these things. You've got to be quite assertive and not actually care too much about the outcome. Or worry that you might look rude or even apologise for interrupting when, actually, it's your job to keep things moving along to time and necessary to jump in. 

You could also say something like, "Okay, well, thank you for that. Thank you. Have to leave it there for now, let's move on to the next topic."

Or, "let me ask another question of the panel." 

How to interrupt: Physical interruptions and nonverbal signals

Physical interruptions, like raising your palm, really nodding a lot, as in "stop talking now, please", or even that little sign, a little space between your finger and thumb as if to say "keep it to time". 

Other ideas include simply saying something very bold, such as, "I'm going to have to interrupt you. We must move on." 

As a host or chairperson don't apologise for interrupting 

Don't say, "I'm really sorry, John. John, I'm really sorry. I'm gonna have to interrupt you." It's important not to feel bad about it afterwards, people might look a bit taken aback in the moment, but actually, it's your job. 

Being interrupted while speaking

Now, I want to take it from those moments where you're tasked with running things. To when it's you that is being interrupted. I tell you what, I hate being interrupted, but I equally do interrupt other people. I'm aware of that. So, I'm very curious about this area of communication, and I know the ideal is to not interrupt. Sometimes I think you can tell that people are running out of steam on an idea or what they're saying, or they're actually beginning to go into the second cycle of repeating themselves differently. 

How to interrupt when people are repeating themselves

People do that very naturally and if you're excited and you want to input, then maybe it's applicable to jump in. Maybe you caveat it with, "Jane. I've totally got what you've got to say. I hear you. I think it's a brilliant point. I just want to jump in and say..." Or you jump in and say something and then you realise it's not gone down very well, in which case back off and say, "I am so sorry I've interrupted you have an I do apologise now."

The brilliant thing about doing that and noticing when you're doing it and stopping yourself and setting the example is that you are indeed doing that for others around the table. You're setting an example of not interrupting your backing off from your mistake. And I think that's a really cool way of helping set the tone with other colleagues, especially in a meeting situation.

Interruptions, should I ignor them?

If you get interrupted, though you could ignore it. That's one way of dealing with it. If it's a regular occurrence, then it needs dealing with, doesn't it? So you could keep going. Just keep going, keep pushing through. Keep making a point talking over them because they basically interrupted you and it will become a battle of wills and very noticeable to other people. Probably least noticeable to the person interrupting you, but nonetheless, you could keep going if you're mid-flow.

You could be polite about it, which is a favourite of mine. I say, "I think what you're about to say is really valuable. Could I just finish my point, though?" No one's going to argue with that, are they? Oh, yeah. I'm I have got valuable stuff to say! And yes, you can finish what you're about to say. 

So those are my two main ways of dealing with interruption. The third way, of course, is to call it out right away. Don't just say, "hey, stop interrupting me. I don't like you."

How to talk back after an unwanted interruption

Just try, " I'm going to carry on if you don't mind," or, "You just interrupted me. Could I carry on or please?", or, "You've interrupted me three times in this meeting? Could I just carry on and finish what I'm saying? Without interruption? It would really help me with my thinking. Or, "It would really help me just finish off this point that I'm trying to make." Yes, you might get a few people wrinkling their noses, but does that matter? No.

A really good tip for you to leave with is to listen to speech radio when they're interviewing guests. Radio 5 Live, for example, if you're in the UK or LBC Radio. Because in the news shows when they're interviewing guests and they're tight on time the presenter will often try and get the guest to wrap up. It's especially good on the sports channels because often they're going to some cricket news or somebody's just scored a goal somewhere. Often have to go, "I'm gonna have to interrupt you there because we just heard that the cricket has done something." (I don't know what cricket people do with wickets and all that.)


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