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How to Handle a Heckler when Giving a Speech

Learn how to handle a heckler from media coach TJ Walker in this Howcast public speaking video.

Transcript

So how do you handle a heckler? Well, if you're a stand-up comedian that is a part of the job. You got to be quick. You got to be funny. You got to ridicule the person, put them in their place and mock them. But for the rest of us, if you are a student giving a presentation, if you are a business person. First of all, I wouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about hecklers because it just doesn't happen that often. Other than times when I've given political speeches I have never had a heckler in tens of thousands of business presentations all over the world.

So let us worry about real problems rather than fictional problems, but if it does happen you have got to be prepared. For starters, you don't have to be funny. You're not a stand-up comedian. You don't want to look scared. You don't want to look angry. You don't want to seem like this has completely destroyed your whole presentation, because if it does then that's what people will remember from your speech, not what you actually said.

You want to be calm. There is no one perfect approach. You could say, "If you have something to say, come on up." Or it may be the person has a question and they feel you're ignoring it. Sometimes we're quick to label someone a heckler just because they disagree with us. That's not somebody heckling. "TJ, I disagree with your point on how to start a speech!" That's not heckling.

"TJ, you're fat, ugly and greasy looking." Now that's heckling. But you know what? That doesn't happen very often. Realize the audience is with you. Unless you are stand-up comedian, most of the time when you're speaking in business situations, school situations, civic opportunity, the audience is on your side. They want you to do well. They want you to have a forum to present your ideas. So if someone's being rude, obnoxious and drunk realize that just increases the audience's chance of liking you and being sympathetic to you.

So just because someone is rude to you doesn't mean you have to be rude back. Show some sympathy. You can try to reframe something nasty they said into an intelligent question and then answer it. Sometimes that solves the problem. And then sometimes you simply have to say, "Okay, let us take a vote. Who wants to hear me speak? Who wants to hear the heckler speak?" And quite often then your audience will shout down the heckler and demand that you speak and you've won the day.

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