It’s a presenter’s nightmare: some jerk in the audience decides to give you a hard time, asking impossible questions, challenging everything you say, making snarky comments, and trying to make you look like an idiot. Congratulations – you’ve got a heckler.
Hecklers can really throw you off your game, and it happened to Laura who wrote me with the following question:
Dear Lauren – I had a terrible experience at a talk I gave not too long ago – there was a heckler in the audience! This person would interrupt me with questions, was nudging and smirking at the person sitting next to me, and was dragging down my whole talk. I felt like he was out to get me, and I’m afraid of this happening again. What can I do if I get another jerk like this in the audience?
Watch the video below for my full answer (You can click here to watch it over on YouTube, or scroll down to read the transcript):
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And I’d love to hear from you – have you ever had a heckler or some other annoying audience member throw you off track during a presentation? Share it with with me over on Twitter via @lsergy or over here on Facebook!
The dreaded heckler! Laura, I’m so sorry you had this experience. I’ve been there too, and it’s no fun whatsoever.
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with hecklers, these are audience members who are out to antagonize you, make you look foolish, and throw you off your game. Hecklers are the live version of internet trolls. They aren’t interested in your presentation or in generating any kind of conversation. All they want is to get some attention and build themselves up by bringing you down.
Before we get into dealing with Hecklers, it’s important to know that not everyone who challenges your ideas or asks tough questions is a heckler. Many people who ask hard questions or challenge you are actually interested in exploring your topic more deeply, and they do this through debate. Hecklers, on the other hand, aren’t interested in exploring the issue at all – They don’t really want you to answer your question and won’t be satisfied with anything you say.
Hecklers, on the other hand, aren't interested in exploring the issue at all. They don't really want you to answer your question and won't be satisfied with anything you say. #communication #confidence Click To Tweet
If you find yourself dealing with a Heckler, it’s your job to take the spotlight away from them as quickly as possible. The rest of the audience will also be irritated with them, and they want you to shut that person down and move on with the presentation.
I’ll usually give someone one or two chances with a comment or a question to determine whether or not they’re actually a heckler. If within a short exchange I can tell that they just have an axe to grind and don’t really want to engage, I thank them briskly and move on to the next question. It looks something like this “Thank you. Let’s move on to the next question.”
If they don’t get the hint, I’ll up the ante and tell them that for the sake of time, I’ll be moving on or taking other people’s questions. “Thanks for your comment. I’ve got limited time and lots more questions, so I’m moving on now. Yes, what is your question.”
If they still push it, I’ll invite them to talk to me after the presentation, and then I won’t acknowledge them again. “Thank you, feel free to come talk to me after the session.”
It’s pretty rare that they’ll actually come up and talk to me afterwards – after all, they no longer have an audience watching them, and that’s what they really want. I’ve never had to ask someone to leave the room. Once I start ignoring them, they usually get bored and give up.
A very important part of dealing with hecklers is your tone and body language. You want to be polite, but firm and frosty. Normally I’m a very smiley person, but I drop the smile when dealing with a heckler and fix them with a direct, unmoving stare and squared shoulders when I’m shutting them down. After that, I don’t look at them again.
Now if anyone watching is worried about having to deal with hecklers, let me assure you that they are rare. Remember, you’re giving a presentation, not doing a stand-up comedy set at an open mic night where people come just to heckle. All the same, it’s a good idea to practice the answers I provided earlier just in case you do need to put a heckler in their place.
Stay strong, Laura, and keep on presenting – you survived a heckler once, and you can do it again!