BY ALAN STEVENS, FPSA, PSAE,
GLOBAL SPEAKING FELLOW
Four ways to handle hecklers
FELLO W, is a reputation
specialist from London.
o ACT QUICKLY
Act immediately to minimize any disruption. Don’t ignore a heckler. They won’t
go away. The audience will be on your
side, so point out that their experience
is being harmed, too. The worst thing to
do is hesitate or appear uncertain. Your
audience will be expecting you to keep
control, so don’t let them down.
o LEARN FROM
Whatever happened, use it as a teaching
moment, and either prepare better or
manage the issue from the stage in a more
competent way. Keep a note of what happened during every speech and how you
That’s it. Determine, Evaluate, Act, and
Learn. Then you’ll always be confident
DEALing with a disruptive audience. ■
As professional speakers, unruly audiences are the exception rather than the norm. For those of us who tread the boards
occasionally in comedy clubs, heckling is expected,
and we have a sackful of put-downs, few of which
I can mention here. One that I can comes from
comedy legend Oliver Double, who replies to a
taunt with, “I’m sorry.” The heckler repeats the
gibe. Oliver says, “I heard you the first time. I’m
But we all need a strategy, just in case the
worst happens. Here’s my “DEAL” system for
coping with audience disruption.
o DETERMINE THE REASON
In order to manage disruption, you must first
understand it. Is it them or is it you? Hopefully,
your preparation will ensure that you aren’t the
source, but it may be that you were ill-briefed
or misjudged what was required. You need to be
constantly vigilant. More likely, it is an individual
or small group who would rather be elsewhere. If
you’re feeling brave, you should ask them directly.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Be prepared for all sorts of surprises. Read Ken Sterling’s blog post about
presentation snafus at speakermagazine.com. Search for keyword “curveballs.”
If your material or delivery is the
issue, either change it or keep
going and take it up with the organizer later (I advise the former). If
the problem is in the audience, you
have several options.
¢ You could keep going in the hope
the disruption ceases.
¢ You could appeal to the disrup-tor(s) on behalf of the rest of the
¢ You could tackle them head-on
by asking politely how you can
Never argue with or belittle
an audience member. Always be
respectful and professional. One
of the most e;ective techniques
is to say, “You have a great point.
I’ll address that later”—provided
you can, of course.