If you’ve experienced hecklers when you’ve been training, presenting or public speaking then this blog is for you, so read on!
We’ve all witnessed this, whether it’s been as the one up front or part of the training group, nobody likes it, and it can make for a very uncomfortable dynamic. You may have even been the heckler! Something your speaker said may have resonated with you and you just had to have your say. I get that… It feels empowering to be heard. But the next time you feel the urge to make your presence known, spare a thought for the the presenter, they will feel like a target and you have the verbal gun!
When I work with clients who need help perfecting their training, presenting or public speaking, heckling is the one thing that terrifies them!
That’s understandable, I’ve experienced it myself… I have literally had people tell me that I am talking s**t, or that I don’t know what I am talking about it! When I first started training, presenting or public speaking to groups and this happened, I would fold my arms over myself (subliminally protecting myself) and walk backwards, hiding behind a lectern if I could. Now I’ve learned to deal with it, and I’m going to share my methods for handling the hecklers with you in this post.
How to deal with hecklers:
I have learned to accept that whatever a heckler says has nothing to do with me. I don’t take it personally, even though I can sometimes I feel vulnerable up on the stage when under fire.
The most important thing is to regain control of the room, not in an aggressive way, but in a natural assured way, you will feel empowered and the heckler will feel diffused. The room will thank you for it as most people squirm in the midst of such attacks (particularly Kiwis, we just don’t like that sort of fuss).
When I had a government role I was often my job to deliver bad news from Wellington to the regions. At times, people would tell me to get on my bike if they didn’t like the government policy I was trying to convey! I lost count of the number of times I used the phrase don’t shoot the messenger! Inevitably, I would remind them that I didn’t write the law. I was simply doing my job to translate it for my delegates.
Hecklers tend to be extroverts, otherwise they wouldn’t be speaking up would they! If the point they are making is genuine, interesting and useful, allow them to continue in a manner that you can control. If not here are my top 5 tips on how to manage them.
- Reduce the airtime you give them – Acknowledge that they have something to say, and give them a strict 2 minutes to convey their key points to the group.
- Deflect or redirect – There are two options here. Option #1: Thank them for expressing their view, and politely convey that you’ll now get back to the facts. Option #2: Ask the group whether anybody else feels the same way as the heckler, and if they do, ask for that person’s input.
- Come up here and say that – It’s easy to heckle from a chair at the back of a room. If you think it won’t get too out of control invite the heckler to join you up the front and give a five minute summary of what they want to say. Most wont take up the offer as many people, hecklers or not, hate standing in front of a group. This method usually diffuses things quickly.
- Walk closer to them – This is one of my most favourite techniques. Stand beside or behind your heckler, it’s really hard for the heckler to challenge you when you are right there in their personal space. I have, at times, even gone so far as putting my hand on their shoulder saying, Gosh this topic really has got you hot under the collar. Let’s all take a deep breath in right now and centre ourselves before we carry on the presentation.
- See me later – If all else fails, politely interrupt with a, Thank you, you are making some interesting points that I would like to discuss with you later. As we don’t have time to dive deep right now please come and see me in the next break and we can have a good old chat about it. Amazingly, you’ll find very few hecklers will take up your offer. The one or two that do really do have a genuine point to make and may have been overcome with emotion by a recent experience.
Remember that I can help you or your employees perfect their training, presenting or public speaking skills. Contact me to find out how I can help.