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June 25, 2015

Public speaking - dealing with hecklers

If you do public speaking, you will have hecklers. A heckler is someone in the audience whose goal is to disrupt. Nowadays, on the internet, they're referred to mostly as trolls, but it's the same concept. And how you deal with it can either improve your status with the audience, or ruin it.

The very first time that I saw a heckler was in a comedy club in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I distinctly remember that all the heckler said to the comedian was, "you've got a big nose!" The comedian, Jerry Sienfeld, simply stopped. You could see Jerry trying to see beyond the footlights, and he waited patiently as two bouncers escorted the heckler out. And, as a teacher, I often thought how nice it would have been to have had bouncers to escort disrupting people out of my classes.

The most important thing to do about a heckler is to be able to identify them. If someone simply shouted "why not use Photoshop?" in one of my classes, they were not heckling. I taught adults, in college, and I encouraged this type of participation. If you make the mistake of answering in a rude and nasty way to a genuine question, then your audience will hate you, and you deserve it.

But, unfortunately, people heckle and disrupt. And it's kind'a like the idiot on the freeway - there may be lots of intelligent people around, and he's just making it difficult for everyone. And as the person in front of an audience, guess what, you gotta be a cop. So here's what you should do:

• Acknowledge the person who is heckling. If you continue on as if they don't exist, they are just going to get louder. Believe me, other people in the audience want you to do something. You can simply stop.

• Give the benefit of the doubt. If someone is heckling, with the full intention of disrupting the class, I will ask them to talk to me about it later. You never say, "after class", as everyone knows that means that the person is busted, and is in trouble. My classes had labs, so I would talk to people individually during that time.

• Treat them like children. Because that's what they are. Simply looking at childish people can make them stop. I have a friend who wore those half-glasses, and said that when he looked over them, it was brutal. You are the authority figure to them. Act like it.

Public speaking isn't something that most people do. Standing up in front of a crowd of people, even friendly ones, can be very hard. Dealing with a heckler can allow you to show a great moment of leadership. If you want an example, take a look at how President Obama did it recently

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