Although ‘heckler’ might not sound like a usual word, it is a fact that all of us have seen hecklers around us, more than once in our lifetime.
Let us understand this with an example – remember that one employee who wanted to challenge every opinion and pass an unsolicited remark to feel like s/he was the best in the room? Such people are called hecklers. Some start talking in between your presentation, and others show disrespect subtly by being the ‘know it all,’ the ‘whisperer,’ or by simply being rude and disrespectful towards you and your content.
While schools have their own ways of dealing with such students, in a professional setting, you need to be extremely diplomatic and patient in order to handle hecklers.
Here are a few tips that you can use when you are surrounded by a heckler during a professional speech:
1. Recognizing a Heckler
Firstly, you need to recognize a heckler. A heckler can usually be personal, disrespectful, and a consistent opposer. It is very important to differentiate between people who provide constructive feedback and hecklers. You have to ensure that you do not dismiss constructive feedback only because the person seems to you like a heckler. This will make you look arrogant and dismissive in front of the audience.
2. Come Off as Assertive
Once you have recognized a heckler, it is time for you to show your presence of mind. You should stick to your opinion, but should also come off as someone who consciously listens and understands the opinion of the other.
However, if the heckler is just aiming to give you a tough time, you need to be assertive, level-headed, and firm, so that the heckler will shy away from taking advantage of you.
If the heckler is persistent, let them speak. You may not have to agree with them, but hearing them out may pacify them and give them much-needed attention, and it will make you seem like a good listener and a considerate presenter.
3. Respond Carefully
Do not just dismiss every heckler. Respond to them smartly and calmly by answering questions or by displaying your knowledge. Listen to them, and make them feel heard and understood.
Depending on the circumstances, you can also give them the ‘silent treatment’ if they are being too intrusive. Act normally, and keep the audience on your side. In case they tend to ask antagonistic questions, you can involve the audience by asking about their opinion.
4. Maintain Your Calm
It can be very alarming and distracting to be around hecklers. However, the true test of the speaker is to not lose their calm and manage their emotional state while handling a messy situation. Do not get into ‘defensive’ mode. Try to stay professional throughout. Take deep breaths, be calm, and don’t be too emotionally invested in the hecklers. Do not react impulsively, and stay in control. The hecklers want you to fall into the trap, so don’t become the bait.
5. Don’t Overdo It
Do not try to be unnecessarily rude, as it can snatch away your own reputation. Do not try to be too funny or sarcastic. Keep your responses subtle by not making eye contact with persistent hecklers or subtly ignoring them. You can also politely ask a persistent heckler to reserve all the questions at the end so that you don’t lose your chain of thought.
It is vital to understand that these tips have to be used on a case-to-case basis. Each strategy may not apply universally. It is to be noted that these strategies are mostly for basic hecklers that can be dealt with. However, in extreme cases, all you can do is get them removed. Therefore, as a speaker, you must mentally prepare yourself for such triggers, recognize hecklers, and be present, so that you deal with a case in a way that it should be dealt with. Maintain your calm, swoon the audience, and it will be under control. Good luck!