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Dealing with Negativity: Audiences and Clients

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It’s a fear that every speaker has: the heckler. Consultants deal with negativity too, in the form of a naysayer or a skeptic. So what do you do with someone who is attacking your message?

This problem has been discussed by professional speakers for years. A great article at SpeakerNetNews lists tons of advice from experienced presenters. Their tips include:

Here’s what I do, and it works EVERY TIME. I say to the heckler (ever notice, it’s never a woman?) “You don’t really want to be here, do you?” They say, “No.” And I say, “then you have my permission to leave.”

We usually go back and forth around some issue like, “I don’t know if you’ll jeapordize your job by leaving… I don’t know if it’s mandatory that you be here, etc.” NO ONE HAS EVER LEFT. AND they’ve started to participate! —Nanette Miner

You must respond to any comment made by someone in the audience. Otherwise you lose control of your presentation.

Be sure to avoid saying anything thing that brings criticism to the “heckler.” You want to be the most mature, positive, friendly person in the room. —Steve Kaye

Speakers and Hecklers: A Skeptical Look

© Flickr user saragoldsmith

One way to combat negativity is with positivity. But whether you are speaking to a large group or working as a consultant with people one-on-one, opposition can create friction. Instead of trying to be upbeat when others are down, it can be helpful to empathize with them.

“Thanks for your comment. It’s true that this information isn’t perfect, but it’s the best data we have right now.”

“You’re right, this isn’t necessarily the best for everyone individually. But sometimes what’s best for the whole organization requires some individual sacrifice. We’re here to talk about the choices we have to make, together.”

“I can understand why you disagree. Can we put that conversation on hold for a minute, and come back later to discuss it? That way, we can stay on schedule and be respectful of everyone’s time.”

Speakers and consultants should also take to heart the psychology of disdain. In a blog on the Washington Post wesbite:

[Studies show] people who tend to hate things they already know about are (surprise!) more disposed to hate things they have not yet come in contact with.

To test out this theory, a team of psychologists asked study participants how they felt about a number of mundane and unrelated subjects that included (but was not limited to) architecture, health care, crossword puzzles, taxidermy and Japan.

They wanted to figure out if people tended to like or dislike things in general. This was dubbed the individual’s dispositional attitude or, more simply put, checked for whether they were a hater who pretty much hates on everything that comes across their path.

If some one is speaking out against your presentation or your ideas as consultant, it might not have anything to do with you. Science seems to indicate that, well, “haters are gonna hate.”

In summary: do your best, accept that some will challenge you, and keep moving forward.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 4 weeks ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

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