How To Deal With Hecklers In The Room

What are hecklers? Generally, hecklers are people who interrupt, distract, annoy and create a difficult environment for the speaker or facilitator. There is overt heckling where they are loud, rude and aggressive and covert heckling where they may ask questions or offer their views with the purpose of high jacking the agenda, or pursuing their own interests.

Almost every speaker will experience a heckler at some stage of their career. Whether you are a newbie speaker or a professional speaker, you will have a heckler in one of your presentations. Regardless of what your heckler has to say, it is important to continue with your presentation, stay on track and preserve the sanity of the group. Here are some tips to help you deal with hecklers:

  1. Preparation Is Important

As with most things preparation is important. You can prepare by setting the ground rules of your presentation. You may decide to only allow one question per person – so that a heckler cannot continue to ask questions or dispute your point of view. If your topic is contentious, then announce that you understand that not everyone will agree and that you are looking at things from a different perspective. You can anticipate tricky questions and opposing points of view and prepare responses for those questions.

Once you have stated your ground rules, get agreement from the audience up front. “Does everyone understand that I am taking a different perspective today”? Or, “does everyone agree with no more than one question per audience member”. The vast majority of the audience will agree and you have gained permission to conduct your presentation in this manner.

  1. Praise them.

This will flatter him/her and hopefully take the wind out of his/her sails (Burns,1999).

If you can avoid getting defensive and argumentative, this will help you to come across as confident, credible and composed to the rest of the audience. If you remain calm and collected throughout the episode, you will take the wind out of the hecklers sales.

  1. Find Some Point of Agreement with Your Heckler

Finding some point of agreement, however small, with your challenger, helps you appear to be an open minded person to the audience. Concede some ground, find some common ground and agree to disagree on other grounds.

  1. Anticipate tricky questions.

Try to anticipate the tricky questions or critical comments that people may make about your presentation and prepare appropriate responses. I always suggest walking in your audiences footsteps to get to know their point of view. Then remember to compliment the person for their question/comment and to find some point of agreement with them, no matter how minor

  1. Get Back to Them.

So you cannot answer their question immediately, you don’t have the information at your fingertips. Don’t panic and this is OK on occasions, especially if it is a specific and detailed questions. But  you know how to find the answer or where to find out and you will get back to them. In Government our politicians call this “Questions on notice” and they get back with the answer within 72 hours. So you can find out and get back to them.

  1. Agree to discuss after the presentation

If it gets too heated or is too far of the topic, then you can agree to discuss one on one after the presentation. This can be in the tea break or at the back of the room or even via e mail. So take the discussion out of the room

  1. Involve them

If you are able to include their comments or their suggestions into your discussions and your presentation, then you will look very good and they will generally quiet down. But don’t embarrass them or disparage their viewpoint, rather explain why you have a different idea or viewpoint. Do this respectfully and tactfully.

With hecklers, as with any unexpected event when presenting, preparation is key. If you can become familiar with 2 or 3 strategies to respectfully deal with hecklers, this can make your life as a presenter much easier.

If you want to develop these skills further, I am running a Thinking And Speaking Off The Cuff Workshop on the 23 of November

Comments 2

  1. Thank you so much, this is very usefull lesson.
    But how can we envovle those heckler?
    I found is special but hard to deal with. People used to be in agrrssive when there are kinds fof these people And they could not deal with.

    1. Post

      Barang. hecklers can be difficult. The best way to deal with them is to be well prepared. Have answers for their difficult questions.
      Also hecklers sometimes raise issues or concerns that we were unaware of. This is a great opportunity for us to learn and this new knowledge to our presentation. In this case we should thank the heckler for bringing it to our attention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *