Best ways to respond to hecklers and loudmouths

Sometimes an audience member will take the floor and start to filibuster your talk. Here is one tactic to shut him up, and a few practices to head off such disruptions.

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We’ve all been there as a speaker, watching (and listening) with a fast-sinking heart as some loudmouth begins asking a question and goes on forever, long after you’ve realized that there is no question in there, just an opinion that won’t stop.

Or worse, you’ve got the heckler who won’t stop throwing in a cantankerous opposing viewpoint that goes way beyond the respectful I-hear-you-but-disagree to the I-won’t-stop-bloviating-because-no-one-ever-listens-to-me-and-I’ve-finally-got-the-floor.

As a speaker, you’re naturally self-conscious, so you probably take the interruption personally. It takes a heroic effort of reality therapy to realize that it’s not about you. You’re just the inciting incident. It’s all about the bloviating loudmouth and his insecurities.

Recently I found myself in such a situation. A questioner threatened to take up the entire Q-and-A session—and more. I pride myself on listening respectfully and being able to incorporate just about any point of view into the dialogue, so my vanity prevented me from interrupting sooner. Eventually it became clear that interruption was essential, unless the building was just about to be set on fire, struck by a tsunami, or leveled by an earthquake.

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