How to Deal with Hecklers

Former President Clinton should take a few lessons from his spouse. One lesson that he needs to learn immediately is how to handle hecklers in the audience. She is very good at it. He is not. She turns a heckler’s taunts in into tumultuous applause – for her! He is lured by the heckler’s bait and turns their comments into hand-to-hand combat. She wins. He loses.

The former President always loses these arguments with hecklers. Unfortunately, his lack of discipline when it comes to dealing with hecklers and provocative statements may cost his spouse the nomination. Who wins these arguments? More importantly, who stands to lose as a result?

This morning’s headline, “Bill Spars with Obama Supporter” dominated the 24-hour news cycle. With only a few days until the next state primary elections, do you think that this was the headline that Senator Hillary Clinton’s campaign wanted to see? Of course not. If nothing else, the heckler – or rather, Bill Clinton’s reaction to the heckler – took the spotlight away from Sen. Clinton’s campaign. The focus was once again back on Bill. Not on Hillary. I am sure that she and her supporters were not pleased by this.

Who won the argument? Certainly not Bill Clinton. Certainly not Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The heckler succeeded in getting what he wanted – attention! Attention on him. Attention on President Clinton’s reaction to the argument. Attention directed away from Sen. Clinton’s campaign.

Do you see how hecklers can succeed in grabbing the spotlight? Do you see how easy it is to fall into their trap? Want to find out how to avoid taking their bait?

It’s easy. Hillary Clinton can show us how. Remember the hecklers in New Hampshire who carried signs and shouted, “Iron My Shirt!”? Let’s look at how Sen. Clinton handled that situation:

Step #1 – Hillary asked for the arena lights to be turned on. This succeeded in bringing the hecklers out of their anonymity; out of their hiding spot. She turned an unflattering spotlight on them. The hecklers got attention – and they also got evicted from the audience.

Step # 2 – Rather than getting into an argument, Sen. Clinton gave a witty retort:

“Oh, the remnants of sexism are alive and well,” Mrs. Clinton said.


When everyone had settled down a bit, she said, “As I think has just been abundantly demonstrated, I am also running to break through the highest and hardest glass ceiling.”


Her words were drowned out by a cheering, now-standing crowd.

Step # 3 – She went on with her prepared remarks.

It’s not easy to come up with a witty response to a heckler. Especially in a heated moment or in a tense situation. Brava to Sen. Clinton for this!

What is easy, is to remember the process for successfully handling a heckler, or an audience member who constantly interrupts you or attempts to contradict your position. Here are a few tips for your use:

  • Always maintain your composure. Timothy J. Koegel says, “If you lose your cool, you will most likely lose credibility with the audience.”
  • Always prepare your response. Anticipate any possible questions or interruptions. And then prepare your answers to the questions – particularly the tricky questions – and your response to common interruptions.
  • Always involve your entire audience. While it is important to maintain eye contact with the person while they are asking the question or interrupting you, remember this: Involve your entire audience when you repeat the question and you provide your answer.
  • Never get into an argument with a member of the audience! You are guaranteed to lose!

Do you have any additional suggestions to offer our readers? How have you handled sticky situations when you were speaking? Add your comments below.

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