How to Handle a Heckler

No matter how much time you spend rehearsing your presentation, your preparation can go down the drain if you’re confronted by a heckler while delivering it. Hecklers are a unique kind of disruption, as they very rarely have a point to make. The point is to draw attention to themselves or interject an opinion.

Fortunately, encountering a heckler isn’t a common occurrence at most presentations. But the fact that they do show up occasionally makes it imperative for you to know how to handle them. Here are some tips on diffusing the situation.

Make Sure You’re Dealing with a Heckler

What may initially appear to be a troublemaker may actually just be someone with a challenging question. You’ll know the difference right away because a true participant with an inquiry is respectful and supports his or her point of view. A heckler is only intent on gaining attention with individual goals in mind, which typically will be to insult your expertise.

Turn the Tables

The motivation behind a heckler’s actions is to disrupt your presentation and discredit your credibility. So put the spotlight on him or her. Give the person your microphone if possible, or just turn attention over and ask pointed, difficult questions. Once it’s clear that this individual has nothing to offer to the conversation, he or she will typically back down.

Ask the Heckler to Get Specific

At times, you’ll encounter a heckler whose attendance is required, but they don’t really want to be there. This person will make comments questioning your authority on the topic at hand. The best way to handle these heckler is to ask them to be more specific in their questions. These disrupters probably aren’t all that knowledgeable; otherwise, you’d have their rapt attention. Therefore, put their weaknesses on display for the entire audience.

Get Some Help from the Audience

Always keep in mind the audience is there for a reason: they came to gain value from your presentation, not spend the time listening to some jokester just looking for attention. At this point, you should ask the audience if they’d like to hear more from this individual. You might hear awkward silence or there may be a shout for the heckler to be quiet; very rarely will attendees ask the disrupter to continue. A heckler will usually get the message and slink away. Then, you can get back to your presentation.

Take on the Role of Counselor

Sometimes an effective approach to a heckler is a clinical one. Ask questions like:

  • How does that make you feel?
  • Were you upset when that happened?
  • Have you had an embarrassing or humiliating experience in the past?

Pretend the person is sitting on the psychologist’s couch and you’re the doctor. This strategy does take time away from your presentation, but the audience will probably find it hilariously entertaining.

How would you deal with a heckler who disrupts your presentation? We encourage you to share your tips, stories, and experiences!

For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing bduffy@onesmoothstone.com

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