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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