Help the Heckled! Know What to Do If It’s You

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Not everyone gets heckled. But everyone should know what it’s like, even if it’s just for practice.

Next time you’re rehearsing for a keynote speech, or for that big strategic sales presentation, ask a colleague to shout from the back of the room, “excuse me. EXCUSE ME! Explain why you outsource American jobs to offshore companies!” Then remember Rule #1: Don’t lose your cool. Something Michelle Obama demonstrated when she was confronted this month during a speech she gave in Washington, DC about youth opportunities. The heckler was concerned with promoting gay rights.

Happily, as B2B business development professionals, we usually fly under the radar for divisive social or political issues. If anything, we have the opposite problem: we’re likelier to be heckled for being unremarkable. Something I wrote about in a 2009 blog, Thought Leaders: PLEASE Tell Me Something I Don’t Know!

Five minutes into CMG’s introductory PowerPoint, a man in the audience named John interrupted the presenter and opined, ‘you’re the experts in marketing strategy, and yet, I don’t hear anything new. You haven’t provided anything we don’t already know!’ He continued by reciting the unremarkable bullet points projected on the large screen in the front of the room, and emphasizing that he wanted to hear thought-provoking insight worthy of his time. The slack-jawed audience at the McLean Hilton fell so totally silent you could hear a Blackberry hitting the plush carpeted floor.

In a textbook moment for the power of quick thinking, the presenter immediately responded, “Well John, you get what you pay for!” I should add that neither John nor anyone else in the room had been charged to attend. The audience exploded into laughter. Good thing, because the presenter violated Rule #2: Don’t try to be funny. Jokes can backfire. “The middle of a speech is not the time to get in touch with your inner Seinfeld,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic political consultant, who contends that a humorous response could appear as making light of a difficult issue, according to an article that appeared in The Washington Post (How to Respond to a Heckler: The Rules Are Different, Depending on Who You Are).

If humor carries its own risks for defusing tension, what’s a heckl-ee to do? Try Rule #3: Put the heckler on the spot. Keith Fields, author of How to Handle Hecklers, says one of the most effective heckler-stoppers is to respond by saying, “Pardon me?” “It puts the spotlight on the heckler, and they usually don’t know what to do next . . . A heckler is a voice from the dark. If you shine a light on them, you take away their [anonymity]. They’re not good at thinking on their feet.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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