Do you know what your audience is thinking when your presentation gets highjacked by a heckler? "Please manage that person and let's get on with it" is usually what's going through their minds.
Hecklers are one of a presenter's worst nightmares.
I can still feel the knots in my stomach when I remember back to my first presentations. I'd sweat about the damage a heckler could do by sidetracking me. I also worried that my credibility would be damaged if I gave away control.
I've learned from each time standing at the podium it doesn't have to be this way. As the one holding the mic, you have the power to turn this situation around and take control. Here are three techniques to handle hecklers at your next keynote.
Remember you're in control
There's a difference between being polite and being a pushover. As a Canadian, I'm no stranger to politeness. We're known for being ridiculously polite. However, there is a fine line between being polite and letting someone cross the line. And remember, when an interloper has too much airtime you'll be viewed as weak.
The audience has come to hear you share your vision and ideas. They didn't come to hear Joe or Jane Heckler unless they came to witness a contentious issue and hoped it would turn into a free for all. Let's hope that's not the case.
How do you maintain control? Don't ignore a heckler. If you continue with your presentation and talk over the offender, things will likely slide down hill. The heckler will only get louder.
Answer the heckler then take your focus off of them and look at someone else in the room. If they continue, let them know there will be a Q & A period (if there is one) or that they can reach you via your website/email.
If this doesn't stop them let them rant a bit...it will seem like an inordinate time for you whilst listening to them. It will feel uncomfortable but hang in there. When they stop to take a breath (at this point you'll marvel at how long they can talk without taking a breath), interject and ask the audience if they want to listen to the heckler or to you.
Hopefully, the answer is you.
That should stop the heckler in their tracks.
If not plan "B" isn't for the faint of heart. Ask them to leave.
Bite the bullet if you're not in agreement
It's not bad form to disagree. It's why people attend presentations. They're looking for different viewpoints and new ideas they can take away and use. Hearing both sides of an issue is helpful. However, you have a point of view.
So claim your ideas and stand your ground against someone who is trying to derail you. If you don't, you'll appear unconfident and your audience won't place much credence in what you have to say. A powerful lead back to your presentation is using this media technique, "Let me emphasize that point again."
Use media techniques
Have you noticed when a media pro is interviewed they often don't answer a question that's off message? They use a technique called bridging or flagging to move the interview in the direction they want to share.
To prepare for your presentation have a few of these techniques in your back pocket -- just in case. Here are some that you can use to take your heckler out of the picture and move your presentation along:
"Let me put this into perspective by saying..."
"This is an important point because...."
"In this context, it is important that I note..."
"Here is the real issue..."
"And as I said before..."
Bridging or flagging techniques will take the focus away from the heckler and bring it back to you.
Do your audience and yourself a favour and confidently manage hecklers. It will make you look like a hero in your audience's eyes.
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When you're in a stressful situation that triggers many emotions and in which you don't feel so confident (such as meeting your future in-laws), ask yourself what's the worst thing that can happen, suggests Shirin Khamisa, founder of Careers By Design in Toronto. "If you can come to terms with what the worst possible thing that can happen is -- which is usually not the end of the world -- then you can come to terms with it and you won't feel as stressed."
Before facing the situation you're feeling unsure about, get out of your own head, says Khamisa. Go for a walk outside or practice some deep breathing. When you stop contemplating and obsessing over every detail, getting out of your head allows you to relax and speak from the heart, the career coach says.
Taking a careful look at where your lack of confidence stems from is the key to formulating a plan to address it. "Often, your fears may not be rooted in reality," says Khamisa, noting she once had a client who'd held onto her insecurity from being an inexperienced entry-level employee, even though she's risen through the ranks and was more than capable in her current upper management position. You can discover where your fears stem from in many different ways. Consider asking colleagues for feedback, says Khamisa, or working with a career coach, as they can give you an outsider's perspective.
Focus on your strengths and they'll take the lead when it comes to your confidence, says psychologist Andrew Shaul. "Perhaps you're a good storyteller and you're funny. Play up those characteristics and you'll feel good -- rather than focusing on how to overcome your negative attributes," says Shaul. This will out you in a better place emotionally, as you'll be less anxious and less sensitive about what you're not good at, he adds.
"Rather than punishing yourself for the things you are not, accept that there are things you're not good at rather than hiding them, and it'll allow your strengths to come through," says Shaul, who works in private practice in Toronto. If you focus on limitations, you could overcompensate for what you're lacking and it'll shake your confidence. But acknowledging that you have areas that need work doesn't mean admitting defeat. When you accept your limitations, you can work on improving them, says Shaul, who uses the example of a tennis player with a bad backhand swing to illustrate. "If you don't accept your bad backhand, and you tell yourself 'I don't want the ball going anywhere near my backhand,' how can you work on it if you don't even want to face it?" he says. Avoiding or denying your weak spot might make you feel better in the short run, but in the long-term, your backhand problem remains. But understanding that it's a weak spot and working on it will help improve both your swing and your self-esteem.
Being well-prepared and well versed in whatever situation you're faced with is a sure-fire way to quell insecurity. This holds true whether it's a job interview you want to nail or you're getting quotes for a home renovation. There are few situations as nerve-wracking a job interview, but doing some thorough research on a potential employer (including the company and the interviewer if you know who it will be) can set your mind at ease by arming you with information to answer the tough questions. As well, researching the types of questions asked in interviews can help you prepare your responses. Employers are impressed with candidates who know their stuff. And candidates who know their stuff are often confident candidates. Similarly, doing some research into the home project you want to tackle will help you ask your contractors informed questions and will let them know you're not a client they can mess around with. Your knowledge skews the balance of power in your favour. And in turn, you'll enjoy safe and secure home renovations you can be confident in for the long run.
Knowing yourself is the first key to boosting your confidence, so don't be afraid to take a magnifying glass to yourself and really get to know your strengths as well as your limits - everyone has both and there is a wealth of resources out there that can help you build on your best bits and improve the parts you'd like to change. So get started! An utterly stellar and radiantly confident version of yourself awaits.
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