Tuesday, February 20, 2007

...And Now, How NOT To Handle A Heckler

It's remarkable that so many people working as communications professionals don't know how to communicate.

For instance, you'd think that a public information officer working for a controversial politician would be especially careful with his words--particularly in a setting where the media was ready to pounce on anything he said that might be "newsworthy." Unfortunately, this guy wasn't...(if you need the backstory, check out "How NOT To Handle A Media Stunt.")

It gets better. Better as in, "Raise your hands if you didn't see this train wreck coming." Our intrepid PIO agreed to take part in a public forum on freedom of speech--of course, he's the guy who (on his boss' orders) physically tried to keep several radio station talk show hosts out of the mayor's presser last month.

This poor guy is stuck trying to defend his boss' actions in a no-win situation (Mistake #1,) so he tries to inject a little levity into the proceedings by starting out with a lame joke (Mistake #2) that referred to the time-worn advice to speakers about imagining their audience wearing nothing but underwear (Mistake #3--that advice never works, by the way. It's well down on the effective presentation skills scale, right below "Break wind frequently.")

And the joke falls flatter than a pancake jumping off the Sears Tower. Here's what he said (courtesy of the Toledo Blade:)
"Two ladies that I used to work with when I worked at the [Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority], though, made me promise I would not picture them in their underwear when I spoke," Mr. Schwartz said of the women who were seated in the front row.

Mistake #4. Cue the crickets.

Not having endured enough discomfort, the PIO now has to handle a heckler who turns out to be the C-I-C of the radio station (meaning "Clown-In-Charge.") Having conveniently ignored an invitation to appear on the dais with the PIO, the heckler chooses instead to lob a few snarky comments up on stage. The PIO falls on the grenades and the entire forum degenerates into a screaming match.

Chances are that the relationship between the mayor's office and the radio station will never be repaired until the personnel changes. However, there are two key lessons to be learned from this brouhaha--one, always deal with a heckler calmly and politely. And since you have the microphone, you control the room...so if the heckler won't shut up, then ask the moderator or host to politely remove the offender.

Two, never argue with a fool. Your audience may not be able to tell the difference.

No comments: