Inside The Mind Of A Heckler

by drjim on February 23, 2010

Just What Is A Heckler Thinking About?

Just What Is A Heckler Thinking About?

It’s All About Control

If you could wish for just one thing before you give your next speech in public, what would it be? Sure we’d all like to be able to talk like Tony Robbins, move a crowd like Zig Ziglar, or even have a powerful story to tell like Rudy Giuliani. However, I’m willing to bet good money that after considerable thought, we’d all settle for spending our wish on making sure that there were no hecklers in the audience.

The reason that speakers fear hecklers so much isn’t that they are so rude. Rather it’s an issue of control – we have it and they want it. The person up on the stage who is speaking (that’s you) “owns” the crowd. When a heckler starts to harass you, they are trying to wrestle control of the crowd away from you.

In order to start to find out how to deal with hecklers, the very first step is to take a step back and understand just who they are. It turns out that they (normally) are not wild-eyed radicals. Instead, they are very much people just like you and me. They are speaking up because they are feeling enormous pressure for some reason. This leads to a feeling of being powerless, intimidated, uncomfortable, or simply being overlooked. This is what is what turns them into a heckler.

It’s very easy for a speaker to lose control when a heckler starts to verbally assault them. However, you need to realize that when a heckler starts to speak, very quickly the audience will recognize them for what they are – a disruption.

Why Do They Do It?

Judi Bailey has looked into the psychology behind why people become hecklers. She reports that mental health experts agree that a heckler’s disorderly conduct is a symptom of an unmet need.
Just what kind of unmet need they are dealing with will determine what action you will need to take. Judi has created an acronym, H-O-S-T-I-L-E that can help speakers to quickly classify the type of heckler that they are dealing with:

  • Heckler: these are the ones who are simply being rude to you. The reason that they are doing this is because they have a feeling of low personal worth and they are trying to build themselves up by getting into a shouting match with you.
  • Over-zealous: a strong need for approval causes this type of heckler to always want to lead a conversation. They’ll show up most often if you ask the audience a question – they will be the one who wants to answer it before anyone else.
  • Squawker: the ultimate source of negativity, this type of heckler will poo-poo any idea or proposal. The reason that they are doing this is because it’s easy to do (doesn’t take a lot of thinking to say “no” to a new idea) and because they desperately need acknowledgement.
  • Turned-Off: the heckler who isn’t confronting you directly, but who is doing something else – like having a phone call in the middle of your speech. This may be partly your fault because they very clearly have an unmet need for connection.
  • Intimidator: it’s all about power for this type of heckler. They are more than willing to sit through a speech as long as they are the ones doing the speaking. They are easy to spot because the vocabulary that they will use will be aggressive.
  • Lost: another way to refer to this heckler is “clueless”. For whatever reason they’re just not “getting” what you’re talking about and so they can keep asking the same pointless questions. Clearly this type of heckler has a need for either a direction to go in or information that they can use.
  • Expert: we’ve all seen this one before – he / she thinks that they know more than the speaker (and they may) and they’re going to let everyone else know it. What we’re looking at here is a clear need for personal recognition.

What All Of This Means For You

I’m sorry to report that to the best of my knowledge, there are no magic wishes available to speakers. This means that you’ll never be able to start a speech with the guarantee that you won’t interrupted by a heckler.

The key point that you always need to keep in mind is that no matter how inappropriate their behavior is, they are generally just people like you and me. However, because of their current situation they feel compelled to speak out.

Realizing that there are different types of hecklers is the first step in learning to deal with them. Once you are able to classify the type of heckler that you are dealing with, you’ll be well on your way to making sure that control of your speech stays firmly in your hands.

What type of heckler do you think is the most disruptive?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Nothing makes me more angry than when someone is rude enough to interrupt me when I’m giving a speech. I mean come on, I’ve worked hard to prepare to give this speech and here I am dealing with all of the nerves, logistics, etc. that a speaker needs to stay on top of and all of a sudden I have to put up with this? There has got to be a way to get this person to shut up and sit down, right?

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