I remember the last time I let an audience get the best of me. It wasn’t really the entire audience, it was just one person who was unhappy or angry at the group that I represented. I let him rip me to pieces in front of everyone. I was embarrassed, belittled, distracted and felt quite stupid.
I remember the experience well because I left feeling beat up and angry at the man who attacked me. As I drove home though, I realized my anger was misguided. Yes, he was a jerk and yes he was trying to make me look bad but the real culprit was me: I allowed this happen.
I had the tools to better manage the situation I just forgot to use them. I let him lay a trap and like a fool, I walked right in. It was a good, but painful, lesson for me to learn and it has never happened to me since.
By comparison a year ago I led a meeting where there was a woman clearly gunning for me. This time though, the experience though ended quite differently and I walked out giving myself high fives in my brain. The difference was this time I remembered what I knew and I used the tools I had at hand. I was calm, I let her speak, I asked clarifying questions, and the more she spoke, the more outrageous she sounded to all in the room. I used the audience as my ally watching their reaction to her behavior and then asked if they wanted to continue her conversation of if they preferred to return to the agenda.
The next time you make a presentation, take stock of all your tools and training before you go into the room. Don’t allow fear to guide you, but do prepare for anything that might happen and keep control of yourself. If you sense something beginning to happen, breathe, think, and respond but don’t react. Chances are great you will not have to use all of your tools, but it sure is great to have them handy when you need them.
Tools For Managing Hecklers
- Set ground rules for audience behavior and stick to them.
- Always be on guard – pay attention to all questions
- Make sure to understand the questions or issues raised
- When dealing with a heckler (or possible heckler), allow them to speak freely for a limited time as they will probably dig themselves into a hole
- Use the audience as your friend
- Be calm – it is usually not personal
- Ask for more information as most hecklers expend all their energy in the first punch and have little more to say after the initial attack
This Speaking Tip is one in a series from iSpeakEASY. We help people present information in an exciting and relevant manner. Contact us for information on workshops and coaching for groups and individuals. We take good speakers and make them excellent.
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