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How to handle the hecklers.

Byline: Dr RAY LOWRY

IF you do enough presenting you will eventually encounter the heckler.

You may be lucky for a while. With good chairmen, docile audiences and enough boring material, you may get away with what appears to be rapt attention for your speeches.

But eventually you will have to deal with distractions from the body of the auditorium. And I don't mean unpleasant odours.

Why do audience members heckle? Sometimes it is by mistake - they forget where they are and articulate their thoughts loudly in error.

Other times audience members feel moved by what is being said and they may even be encouraged to think like that if the platform speaker uses audience participation tricks like rhetorical questions.

On the other hand, there are people who heckle out of malice or other emotional feelings. They may want to show off, embarrass the speaker or think they are doing the conference a service by livening things up.

Some may even be planted or set up for political or other interpersonal reasons.

Hecklers take many forms. They may be aggressive show-offs who have had a bit too much beer at the lunch break. They might be harmless enough people who happen to talk in their sleep. They may be cowards or assertive psychopaths.

Heckles can range from the odd grunt to cynical laughter, the poignant raspberry, awkward comment or the full torrent of abuse/ sarcasm/ cutting outbursts.

What can you do about heckling? Some people devise and practise put-downs or witty responses. Others ignore them and appeal to the body of the audience for disapproval.

But in practice, most of us are completely thrown by hecklers and they have their desired effect if it is done deliberately: to interrupt our flow and put us on the defensive. So, most battle on. If you are unlucky and attract regular heckling, you ought to look at your material or your work social situation.

Even the innocuous can put you off. My boss was once reduced to a spluttering wreck by a heckler who repeated everything he said a few seconds afterwards. He was mortified to learn, long after he had given up speaking, that it was a fault in the sound system and the heckler was actually himself!

But if the heckle is real and you are on your toes, you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. If you say your name and a rude heckler asks: "Why don't you change it," you can skewer them by saying: "Are you proposing?" Dr Ray Lowry is a recently retired dentist, doctor, academic and former gag writer for the Two Ronnies who now earns a crust as a stand-up comedian, after-dinner speaker and coaching presentation skills.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2013
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