Monday, February 26, 2007

Dealing with Hecklers

If you make presentations you may, on rare occasion, encounter a heckler.

I say "rare" because most audiences are friendly and would-be hecklers quickly sense that acting out their hostility will score few points.

With that in mind, here are some time-tested tips from an old, scarred, veteran on what to do when someone starts lobbing poisonous darts:

  1. Don't automatically assume that the person has bad intent. Some questions or challenges are poorly worded and may sound more contentious than intended.

  2. Seek to clarify and then focus on the area of disagreement. Lack of clarity can unnecessarily expand the scope of conflict. Furthermore, as you clarify the issue, you may find areas of agreement and reduce the adversarial nature of the exchange.

  3. Be professional and polite at all times. The more polite you are and the more obnoxious the other person is, the more likely it is that the audience will sympathize with you, even if they disagree with your ideas. Few people favor the rude. It will be tempting to slam back, but - unless the other person's behavior is extreme - resist doing so.

  4. If the other person has made a valid point, admit it. You want to maintain your credibility. A honest exchange means that valid points should be acknowledged.

  5. Don't let the heckler dominate the proceedings. Once the person has had a reasonable chance at being heard, move on. The rest of the audience deserves to hear the entire presentation.

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