[Image by Gerd Altmann of Pixabay]

When I first thought of this topic about 10 years ago, heckler was the term I used.  Today, the most well-known label is bullying.  Essentially, they’re the same. Whatever you call this person, the behavior that’s demonstrated can be distracting at best and intimidating at worst. Hecklers or difficult audience members may be lurking around the corner.

Here is what I advise:

  1. Distribute handouts at the conclusion vs. in advance; this avoids people reading ahead and potentially formulating disruptive remarks.
  1. Keep your presentation pace moving without “dead air.” This sets an efficient tone and leaves little space for interruptions.
  1. If someone interrupts, don’t take it as a personal assault and become defensive, angry or raise your voice. This only serves to fuel the heckler.  Essentially, if you regard the heckler this way, it’s a form of paying attention.
  1. Silence can be extremely effective as a first reaction; afterwards you’re not required to respond. Often a lack of response speaks volumes; you can choose to ignore and then when you feel the time is right, resume your point.
  1. Unless the heckler is using inappropriate language, try reflective listening as a way of responding; often what they’re really seeking is to be heard. If you know the heckler’s name, use it; this often catches them by surprise and stops them dead in their tracks.  That’s exactly what we want!
  1. Use of space can make a huge difference; sometimes moving closer to the heckler can make it less comfortable for the person, which can quiet them more quickly than if you’re at a distance, where it feels safer.
  1. State at the beginning of your presentation and again if interrupted, that you want to stay on schedule and that time is limited. If the heckler persists, you can interrupt and say, “Since everyone’s time here is valuable, let’s move on now so others can comment or ask questions.”  Then immediately call on another audience member.


When you implement what you’ve just read, you’ll feel that you have a handle on the situation and will remain composed.  That’s the purpose of this post.  Want to speak with me further?  Please email me: dale@profitablespeech.com or call 518-664-6004.