How to actually deal with hecklers
If you were at The BWN in January you will have seen my performance with Lisa Hardy from Responsive roles. In a room of 30 business owners only 3 people were in on the act and the rest of the audience behaved in a remarkable and incredibly powerful way. (Tell you more about that after the top tips.)
The idea was that I would pretend to fumble my words, get confused and not know how to deal with a heckler or someone behaving badly. Lisa then refused to sit down with the audience of professionals, continued her conversation with Jayne Meek from Spritz Monkey (who was in on the act – good acting!) and generally disrupt proceedings.
- A word of caution about people pleasing. As business owners we want everyone to love us, buy more and tell their world how brilliant we are, so when someone is rude, inappropriate or disrespectful to our company (and brand) we can’t’ help but take it very personally (rightly or wrongly) and want to go out of our way to make that person love us again. Mistakes happen, that’s human nature but our response to it can have damaging results. Every complaint should be taken seriously, listened to and respected, but not at the expense of damaging your confidence, your brand or your loyal customers. Lisa explored this.
For me it was really hard to act in that way, like someone that didn’t know how to deal with someone being rude and inappropriate when in effect I would never have tolerated anyone being so disrespectful to my audience. Their time is precious and I wouldn’t allow someone to upset them, waste their time or offend them. So here’s how it felt, and what I actually would have done;
- Mistakes are okay.
As a professional speaker I know that what matters to people is that I get a powerful message across that enables those people to get what they need and move forward wherever they are at. As such I’m comfortable in making mistakes with my words. I wouldn’t naturally have wasted precious time apologising for saying the wrong word. By over compensating and saying multiple times “I’m sorry” I made the audience feel nervous. “What does she keep apologising for?” Was written on everyone’s faces. Saying the wrong words happens, it’s no big deal unless you make it a big deal.
3. The eyes have it.
Naturally I like to ensure that every person in the room gets my attention. Natural eye contact does this. When I was pretending to be put off and distracted by Lisa, I deliberately changed my eye contact. It was a great experiment for me, because as someone who trains people on how to be a powerful communicator, I was seeing in action the damage a lack of eye contact has. It says “you don’t matter to me” or “I’m scared of you” or “I don’t trust you” the list is long and very subtle but basically if you can’t make eye contact people are less likely to trust you. Even if you are on the receiving end of the barrage. So, make eye contact. It’s a sign of confidence for yourself and your audience. (Even when you don’t feel confident as a speaker – this still works!)
4. Voice control.
My natural instinct as a speaker when someone starts talking (and I’ve not asked them to chat amongst themselves or share their thoughts – 2 great things to mention at the start to set boundaries) I will adjust my voice to deal with them politely and respectfully without raising awareness to their disruptive behaviour and thus give them power in the room. So naturally I wanted to raise my voice and speak louder, with a more commanding tone (usually I’m very jovial and chatty in style) and with less pauses to hear the hecklers. All things that would have taken the power away from Lisa and Jayne which would have wrecked the experiment. So as hard as it was, I kept my voice quiet, low in tone, didn’t alter the tonality or speed and this empowered them to keep going and wrecked my performance just as we planned. It was very clear how little power I had when I communicated like that. Scary to see it in action too. (See below!)
5. Your body gives the power away.
I’m lucky to have only had a very few hecklers in my time however on the occasions I have, when it was early in my career. No matter who was in the room, how important that performance was or how scared I was, my body did the talking before I did. I teach the skills to stand with power, like you know what you are talking about (because you do!) and act the part. To adjust my body to everything I would naturally do felt very odd. I stood like a nervous child before they are called into see the head! Moving my weight from one leg to the other, shoulders pointing down to the ground, head lowered, knees in, hands wiggling – everything that makes you look nervous, scared, un-confident and out of your comfort zone! Try it. Stand in front of a a mirror and act like that and see how it makes you feel. Now stand in front of the mirror and act strong, confident, comfortable, happy to be there, excited, capable and any attribute from your role model you adore and you will see the difference. It didn’t just impact on me, it greatly impacted on my audience too! Don’t give your influence away in such a simple yet powerful way.
The power you have as a communicator wherever you are is not just about your knowledge and words it is about so much more. I realised the implications of this at The BWN on this day. Afterwards I heard how upset people were;
“How dare you treat our Mandie like that!”
“How dare you be so rude”
“That person needs to sit down now”
“Why would you be so disrespectful!”
Looking back on that experience I am so incredibly honoured to know, network and work with so many confident, passionate, caring business owners that wouldn’t tolerate disrespect to each other.
It made me realise how powerful The BWN has become. (Which was always the aim!)
My natural instinct in that environment would be to read the room and alter the energy accordingly. Anyone (I feel) can learn to do this. It’s not just about being an empath – something I’ve found myself exploring as a coach because I seem to so intuitively know what someone is thinking or feeling.
- Have you ever been in a church and noticed how everyone’s voices go quieter and more balanced and calm?
- Walked into a room and thought “Uh oh, what’s happened here?” sensing an argument or confrontation that has just ended?
That’s the ability to read the room. You can change the energy with the ideas above and by being more in tune with the people in the room. To not actively engage in altering the room’s energy was really difficult to do. Play with how you interact in a room full of people.
See what works for you?
As Jayne Meek (the conspirator!) from Spritz Monkey said “It was amazing to see how the energy of the room changed and how quickly people responded to what they knew to be a great environment usually”. Many people found themselves half way questioning “is this for real?” and afterwards said that the evidence of past actions told them that this couldn’t be real but they emotions were carrying them away in the moment. Be aware of this in your own personal life, your success journey and professional life – so often our hearts try and argue with the facts our minds know. My job is often to help that process along. Let me know how you get on and feel free to get in touch on social media, there are many ways we can work together from the Insiders and courses to coaching and one off group sessions.