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How to Handle Objections and Hecklers As A Professional Speaker


So, as frustrated as you may feel when people object, interrupt or say something negative, I encourage you to pause.

We all know the logical way to handle an objection as a professional speaker: 

You 1) acknowledge the issue, 2) verify the problem, and then 3) offer a response. The challenge is that this emotionless way of responding to people won’t win over the person who objected. Instead, it will likely lead to a point-scoring battle.  

After more than 20 years as a professional public speaker and coach, I’ve had my fair share of people object during a presentation. And I’ve found that instead of handling these situations robotically, I remember to treat the objector as a person. 

For example, if a five-year-old comes to you with a dead hamster, you aren’t going to say, “I acknowledge the hamster is dead, I will verify this by shaking it. My response is to get you a new hamster. Issue solved!” That’s going to reduce the child to tears. 

What you’d actually do is listen with empathy and try to help the child through the situation.  

So, as frustrated as you may feel when people object, interrupt or say something negative, I encourage you to pause. Aim to connect with them and hear more of their voice and less of yours. 

First, a professional speaker should empathize with the objector. 

You may be thinking, “Great, empathy, yes, I can do that. I’m a decent person. I probably empathize all the time.” 

But you may feel differently when you pitch an idea you care about and people start objecting. When this happens, we immediately try to convince our objectors that we are right and they are wrong. 

Unfortunately, empathy is only easy when you agree with people. 

It’s much harder when you’re in front of a room of twenty decision-makers, saying, “It’s blue, it’s blue, it’s blue,” and one of them says, “No, it’s not, it’s red.” The public rejection of an idea you care about hurts. You have to stay calm. You have to listen. If you don’t, your idea can die in the cross-fire. 

Remember: empathy is about seeing life through someone else’s eyes, walking in their shoes, showing that you care. As a professional speaker, you don’t need to agree with them, just understand them.

Some people say they don’t have time to nurture objectors through their interruption, because when there are only twenty minutes to talk, they have to finish their content. 

This is fool’s gold.

You can email your content. You can’t handle objections by email. You must handle objections while you’re in the room because that’s the best way to show you understand. Once your audience feels heard and understood, you’re far more likely to gain their commitment. 

So, empathize like you mean it. See the world through your objector’s eyes and let them talk while you aim to understand where their pain comes from.

Next, clarify the issue.

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office with a pain in your leg. 

After the doctor empathizes for a few moments, they say, “Okay let’s chop it off then!” Do you think they truly listened to you? 

People do this in business all the time. 

They pretend to empathize, but they never listen long enough to find out what the real problem is. Instead, they jump into solution mode. You have to try to resist this urge to fix things quickly. After you’ve listened and empathized, you need to clarify, in order to fully understand what the person needs from you.

Don’t shy away from asking more questions to find out what your objector really needs, even when you’re speaking to a large group. If you don’t clarify the issue before announcing your solution, the person who asked the question just feels dismayed. Your solution doesn’t help them achieve a desired better future—how could it? You didn’t find out what your objector really needed. 

Think of it this way: most objections are like the tip of the iceberg—you need to delve beneath to find the extent of the problem. And handling a challenge at a deeper level gives others confidence in you—the other people in the room will see it as a true strength, whether there are 10 or 10,000 of them.

Then, propose.

Think about getting engaged. Would you do the following? 

You might perhaps book a fancy dinner in a romantic location, order Champagne, get down on bended knee and say, “You will marry me!”

Nope. Not gonna work. 

All the Champagne and nice food in the world won’t help you pull that one-off. Even a person who was feeling ready and willing to be your partner forever would feel annoyed if you said that. 

The same is true in business.

Remember that it’s not your job to fix everything, create a big solution, and answer every problem. You just need to collaborate. Rather than telling someone else what to do next, try proposing.

“Will you marry me?” works so well because it implies free will. The person has a choice. In business, you can achieve the same thing by saying, “So if…” 

For example, you might say, “So if you had delivery by Christmas, would that work for you?” If your idea meets resistance, you haven’t lost anything. You haven’t put this suggestion forward as your one and only solution. You’re still investigating options. 

You may need to empathize and clarify some more, but you’re still part of the discussion that will enable you to reach a solution that works. If they like your suggestion, though, you’re almost done.

Finally, a professional speaker checks to make sure everyone is satisfied.

In order to be sure that you have covered everything in the objection, you must always check-in before you move on. 

The last thing you want is any lingering uncertainty that may fester and raise further objections to your ideas later. Better to get it all dealt with straight away. Everyone in the room will respect you for your ability to stay with the issue to a full resolution.

A short but sweet way of checking in can be a quick question, like: 

  • Does that answer your question?
  • Does that give you everything you need?
  • Was that helpful for you?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, then you can clarify further and work together to reach a resolution.

Of course, no process is going to resolve absolutely everything, but it will help you begin your event in the spirit (and state) of collaboration. And that will give you the best chance of a positive result. 

If you would like to learn more about improving your communication at work you can listen to my new podcast ‘Born To Speak’ on iTunes.

You can also contact us to run a workshop for your team. And you can connect with me on Linkedin to read the latest articles!

Here are a few other articles you might find helpful:

5 Questions Every Public Speaker Needs To Ask Themselves

What Do Public Speakers And First Responders Have In Common? These 3 Relaxation Habits

The Underlying Fears Holding You Back From Having Presence And Confidence In Front Of An Audience

I have been teaching clients how to communicate their ideas for 18 years, working with 50,000 people across 45 countries. One client gained $1.5Billion in new business in just one year, through applying simple changes. You can order my new book ‘You Were Born To Speak’ on Amazon.

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