Worried about a heckler?

Bessie Braddock: “Winston, you are drunk, and what’s more, you are disgustingly drunk.
Churchill: “Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what’s more, you are disgustingly ugly. And tomorrow morning at least I shall be sober.”


It never ceases to surprise me how often my clients ask me what to do if heckled during a speech at a special occasion.


There are, of course, a number of tricks to deal with a mouthy member of the audience.  But if this is keeping you awake at night, the key thing to remember is that aggressive heckling is very unusual and, as a general rule, it tends to be reserved for stand up comedians.

But if this reassurance isn’t enough, then here’s another rule of thumb:
The more abusive and aggressive you are during your speech, the more likely a member of your audience will be to respond to it.  So if you keep your content relatively mild and inoffensive then you can rule out intervention from all but the very drunk!

If this is still not enough to control the nerves then there are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for the unwanted (and unlikely) heckle.

Firstly, please remember that this is their problem not yours!  You have been asked to speak.  The rest of your audience will want to hear what you have to say.  And most of them will be as irritated as you are by the uninvited interruption.

Bearing this in mind, your best bet is to smile politely at your heckler, pause and then continue.  This approach has a number of advantages.  It enables you to retain the moral high ground, it avoids you having to think quickly on your feet under pressure, and it will avert all chances of a slanging match developing.  If you could also add a ‘thankyou’ while smiling sweetly, then you are likely to get some laughter from your audience as well as sympathy.

My advice to nervous and inexperienced speakers is to leave it there.  But some are desperate for a response they can prepare that is sure to work.  This is difficult, because the genius of the best stand-up comedians is that they are able to adapt their lines on the spot.  On that basis, you need something that is not inflammatory, and which is aimed at the audience rather than the heckler.  Something on the lines of ‘I must remember to stop asking my Dad to come and listen to me speak’ or ‘I really wish my Mum could hold her drink’ should work.

However, as with all things related to giving a speech, if you prepare well, your worst fears are highly unlikely to be realised.


Australian cricketing legend Glenn McGrath: “Brandes, why are you so fat?
Zimbabwean tail-end batsman Eddo Brandes: “Because every time I **** your wife, she gives me a biscuit.”

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