4 Strategies for Handling Hecklers While Giving a Speech

Influential-Public-SpeakingArticle originally posted at http://www.fearlesspresentations.com/4-strategies-for-handling-hecklers-while-giving-a-speech.

Which is worse, hecklers or trolls?

While they have a couple of things in common, such as mean and offensive language, trolls are able to hide their real identity in fake online accounts. Majority of them aren’t really mean in real life. Hecklers, on the other hand, are braver in a way that they’re confident in attracting negative attention to themselves without masking their identity.

Online trolls can be ignored. Try ignoring a heckler while giving a speech. It’s not so easy.

Identifying Hecklers

Before you go about raging war against hecklers, you should first know how to differentiate them from an audience member with a valid question or a different opinion.

Both skeptics and tough questioners are polite in voicing their thoughts. Hecklers don’t care about manners. They have an opinion and they’re going to voice it out one way or another. To hell with decorum!

Skeptics back up their opinion with evidence and logical reasoning. Audience members with though questions listen to what you have to say, and are interested in having a thought-provoking discussion. They ‘attack’ your ideas, not you as a person. Hecklers make everything personal. They rant about your poor speech, presentation skills and intelligence, not the validity of your ideas.

Hecklers need to be shut down, skeptics and though questioners are there to make you a better presenter.

The Public Speaker’s Guide to Annoying Hecklers

  1. Avoid shooting them down prematurely.

Find out what exactly they’re complaining or arguing for by asking probing questions. You can ask questions like, “What exactly are you trying to accomplish or point out?” or “How is your opinion on (topic) relevant to _____?”

If you listen closely, their answers will reveal why they’re heckling you in the first place. Sometimes it’s a grudge, sometimes it’s a misplaced anger, other times it’s just to vent. Whatever their reason, you’ll be more prepared to address the problem once you know what’s really happening.

  1. Involve the Audience in Fighting Hecklers

Sometimes, a heckler just wants to enjoy the limelight. Ask the audience a question about your topic, then point to the heckler for answers. In most cases, a brief stint in the limelight is all it takes to shut them up. After that, attention seeking hecklers will be more cooperative and quiet for the rest of your talk.

  1. Treat the Heckler as Part of Your Team

This technique is another way of dealing with attention-seeking hecklers without giving them the mic.

When a heckler interrupts your speech, just let them finish. After they’ve said their piece, make eye contact and smile. Pause for effect, and thank them. But instead of just saying ‘thank you,’ pretend they’re a part of your team. Say something like, “Thank you to my speech writer/joke writer/assistant.” Your audience will have no idea that the heckler isn’t really part of your team. But the heckler will appreciate your humor.

  1. Dead Silence.

Most people don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a crowd. In the case of hecklers, some of them are brave enough to speak out and demand attention. But their confidence wavers when the crowd actually turns around to pay attention to them.

Stop talking and stare directly into the heckler. Don’t stop staring until a good part of the audience turns to stare at him or her. The puzzled and somewhat annoyed looks other audience members’ will give the heckler will surely keep them quiet.

As a Last Resort, Ask the Audience

Some hecklers are persistent. Social embarrassment and a few minutes in the spotlight might not be enough for them. If that’s the case, you can now turn to the audience for help.

The audience came to learn about your topic and to hear you speak. YOU, not the heckler.

Ask the audience if they’re interested to hear more from this heckler. Most of them will just keep quiet; others will turn around to get a good look at the source of disturbance.

If no one speaks, just keep quiet. Let the awkward silence stretch a few more seconds. Once the heckler realizes no one is interested in his opinion, he’ll usually walk out or keep quiet the rest of your presentation.

Don’t let the heckler shake your confidence. Take back control of the audience and refocus their attention back to your speech.