How To Use A Heckler To Your Advantage When Presenting

You’re going to encounter it at some point in your career as a Manager…

You’ve been invited (or instructed) to present at a meeting or company event.  You understand your subject matter inside-out, back-to-front, and upside down too.  Your initial nerves and apprehension are under control, and you’re ready, focused and eager to begin your presentation.  Some of your audience members are known to you, some are not.  Either way, you’re ready.

You inhale deeply before uttering your first words, and five minutes in you’re really flying high without a care in the world.  You spot that some of the audience members are nodding their heads, possibly in agreement with the case and recommendations you present, some are making notes, hopefully not doodling, but eagerly noting down your key points.  All is well with the world…until….

From the back of the room, a voice cries out ‘But what about the other side of the coin and the implications for our organisation..Have you considered that?’

Stumped, your brain, which was doing so wonderfully well just a few seconds before the unexpected, and unwelcome interruption, is now on fight, flight or freeze alert!  But what are you to do?  Do you ask the audience member to save his questions or points until you have concluded your presentation?  Ouch! Telling an audience member to ‘SHUT UP’, even by using more polite vocabulary is a no-no.  Alienate one audience member, and you alienate them all!

But responding to the audience members point takes you off-track, loses your focus, and you may even run over your allocated time slot, which won’t be looked upon favourably.  So what can you do?


Obama to Heckler “I’m on your side, man!”

Use The Heckle or Interruption To YOUR Advantage

Steering clear of any response which could be (in)accurately deemed ‘adversarial’ is the first point to consider.  By maintaining an empathic and collaborative approach to your presentation can unwittingly endeer you to your audience.  They too may not be overly-happy with the interruption, but this is your floor not theirs, so it’s your responsibility for managing it.

Here’s a simple, easy and polite way to manage a heckler or interruptor during your presentation.

  1. Acknowledge their presence and their intention.
  2. Make a genuine commitment to respond to their point AFTER your slot has concluded.
  3. Keep your commitment to give them time.

1. Their intention may be to put you off stride, to doubt your credibility, your recommendation, your point.  Often though, in the organisational setting anyway, it is because the audience member is mis-matching your thinking, or, they want you to hurry up and agree with their point of view or position on the subject, even though you don’t yet know what it is!

2. Politely engaging and gently rebuffing their heckle or interruption maintains a level of rapport which, because it avoids an adversarial tone, keeps you in control and enables you to remain focused and on point.  Offering a genuine invitation to speak following your presentation also keeps other audience members engaged with you too.  Even if some of them too hold an alternative point of view or position on the subject you are presenting.

3.  Giving your time to listen to the heckler’s point can be really beneficial.  As well as being polite, you never know but you might just learn some new information, data or case study which offers an alternative approach to the one you just presented.  Also, you may notice that the heckler just finds the best way for him or her to feel significant in such a setting is to use their mouth – even if what is dispensed is just inane drivel!

Watch how President Barack Obama handles this hecker during one of his presentations.  Notice how he acknowledges, offers time following his presentation, and even instructs security personnel not to eject them from the arena.  How can you effectively use this or a similarly effective approach during your business presentations?

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