Tuesday, November 21, 2006

SPEAKER SAVVY -- Handling Hecklers

If you've seen or heard Michael Richard's appalling racial rant at a comedy club recently, you might wonder how his embarrassment might apply to you. After all, you're just a simple businessperson who wouldn't dream of trying stand-up comedy. You'll never have to worry about hecklers.

Wrong. Every time you appear on a public stage, whether it's at a convention, a shareholders' meeting, or a television interview, there's the potential for confrontation. You still need to be prepared.

I worked as a comedian for several years to help supplement my acting career, and I found that most comics--not Kramer, of course--but most comics love hecklers because they can be turned into comedy gold. I once filled an entire 20-minute set by deftly mocking and comforting a guy who was obviously trying to impress his buddies.

Don't try this at home. Or at work. It's better to diffuse the situation and handle the heckler with style and grace. Here's the secret behind the success most comedians have with unruly audience members--Mark's First Law of Captivating Communication:
He who holds the mike owns the room.
Once you realize the power that you hold in your hand, you can act like a benevolent dictator, ruling over your subjects with an iron fist in a velvet glove. That microphone gives you the ability to control everything that happens inside the venue. Especially heckers. But remember, never try to continue over the disruption with your prepared remarks--everyone is watching the troublemaker, anyway.

Don't get angry. Smile and act classy. Use humor to get the audience on your side. If that doesn't work, then stop what you're doing and politely ask them to stop. Don’t hang up or walk off--calmly ask someone else from the venue to move the heckler outside where management or security can deal with it.

You may never have to handle a heckler...but it's always good to know you can.

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