What Do You Do If You’re Heckled During a Major Speech?

It all started out so well. She was firing on all cylinders; strong voice, good eye contact, inspired writing with a personal touch, a couple of good self-deprecating jokes. However, Theresa May, giving a conference speech aimed at revitalizing her standing after a disastrous few months, found herself seriously derailed when a heckler handed her a “P45” form which is the British equivalent of a “pink slip”. What went wrong?  

My feeling is she didn’t handle this guy quickly and firmly enough. Let’s see some fire, Theresa! This heckler is making a mockery of you in public, and stealing a crucial moment from you (not to mention creating a major security risk). Maybe say something like, “you may think the problems of income inequality, affordable housing, and the sinking pound are laughable, but I assure you I do not. Get off my stage, young man.” Instead, Prime Minister May takes the P45 when it is handed to her, as if she is obligated to do so, and tries to continue as if nothing has happened. After a moment or two, she makes a nice joke, and hits back a bit, but not before her momentum is lost.

What do you think is the best way to handle a heckler?

Steven Colbert, Eric Schmidt and the Art of Q and A

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Eric Schmidt
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election Fox New

In this  Q and A segment, Steven Colbert grills Google CEO Eric Schmidt about privacy on the net in hilarious fashion.  Colbert is amazingly relaxed in front of the camera, and his one-liners are to die for, but let’s look at this Q and A from Eric Schmidt’s perspective.  How do you think he handles these questions?

I think he does a good job because he abides by a simple rule when it comes to Q and A’s; keep it simple, stupid.  There is no reason for endless answers.  Be as clear as you can, tell the truth, give you opinion, and avoid straddling the fence….you know, avoid answering questions the way most politicians do. 😉

When asked about Google in China, Schmidt’s simple answer: “We didn’t like their laws.”  When asked about a comment he made about net privacy: “It was a joke.”  This doesn’t mean that Schmidt doesn’t elaborate, he does, but he does so in a concise fashion.  It helps a good deal that he is not afraid to smile, he is reasonably in on Colbert’s joke, and he uses open gestures.

What do you think?

Jeffrey Davis is the owner of Speak Clear Communications. He is a public speaking coach and accent reduction coach in New York City.