Handling Hecklers and Using it to Your Advantage

You’ve planned and prepared for your presentation for weeks. You have rehearsed what you’re going to say and you have put a great deal of thought into how you can make your presentation an enjoyable and engaging experience for your audience. You arrive early, greet guests, and finally take the stage when it’s time for you to present. You are only a few minutes into your presentation when you start receiving unsolicited comments from a rude audience member. These comments catch you off guard and throw you off your game. While it’s definitely a rare occurrence, heckling does happen from time to time and it can be embarrassing and frustrating for the speaker. Whether they are insulting, interruptive, or confrontational, a heckler can leave you scrambling to regain the flow of your presentation. Here are a few ways to disarm a heckler so you can get your presentation back on track. 

Don’t Acknowledge an Interrupter

It can definitely rattle your thoughts when you are in the middle of presenting and all of a sudden someone from the audience begins shouting something out or trying to talk over you. Someone who has the audacity to speak over you is clearly not worth your attention. In this case, ignore them and keep on talking. You can even use body language to try and shut them down by avoiding eye contact with them or turning your shoulders away from them. Your audience will see how rude this heckler is and they will probably admire your ability to keep calm and press on!

Let Them Have Their Say

Sometimes you will have that person at your presentation who is a show-off and wants everyone to know how informed they are on your topic. You can handle this type of heckler by politely thanking them for their input. Say something like, “Interesting point. We can discuss this further after the presentation.” Let them know that there will be time at the end of the presentation to address questions and then move right on with your presentation. You can also deal with this person by asking them a question to elicit more information. If the information they provide is useful, include it in your presentation and use it to your advantage as a teaching tool. Give them credit for their input in order to validate their feelings and quiet them down from future interruptions. 

Involve the Audience

You may not have intended for your presentation to be such an entertaining spectacle but you can use the heckler to turn it into quite a memorable event. If the heckler is throwing antagonistic questions at you, throw them back at the audience and ask them to answer the question. It could either be a great way to spark conversation or it could encourage someone from the audience to tell the heckler to be quiet. Either way, the audience will handle the situation so you don’t have to make things awkward. You could also ask the audience if they want to hear more from the heckler. Chances are, they are going to tell the heckler to sit down. He will be embarrassed and you will be hailed a hero. Never underestimate the power of a crowd. Social pressure can have a huge impact on the heckler and cause them to back down. 

Although it doesn’t happen often, speakers might encounter a heckler from time to time. A presenter who knows how to handle a heckler will be perceived as a confident professional. Though the heckler may have tried your patience, he could have also helped you to look better in front of your audience.