Manage episode 381416431 series 2950797
The chances of this happening anywhere is pretty remote, but especially so in Japan. Audiences here are polite and wouldn’t be so rude as to interrupt the speaker. Having said that, things can happen for which you are not prepared. I was delivering my debut speech in Nagoya, as the founding Australian Consul, in Japanese, and the unexpected happened. A local representative of one of the main Japanese government organisations was sitting in the front row on my left. I began the speech with a very standard Japanese opening, appreciating everyone coming to hear me when they are all so busy. I barely got that phrase out of my mouth when he erupted in very loud laughter.
The unexpected is more likely though, with foreigners in the audience. Depending on the occasion, it could be one of the big bosses weighing in on what you are saying or one of your ambitious colleagues trying to make you look bad, so that they get the promotion and not you. Regardless, what can we do in these unexpected situations?
In that first example, I was nervous enough giving my debut speech as the Consul and giving it in Japanese. I was dumbfounded by his outburst, because I took it he was laughing at my language skills and I still had another thirty-nine minutes to go speaking in Japanese. I girded my loins and kept going because I didn’t have a choice. I wasn’t reading the speech, so it was all coming out of my brain, trying to follow the navigation I had planned for the talk.
I noticed that some members of the audience were appreciating the fact I was speaking in Japanese and seemed to follow what I was saying. I ignored that ignoramus and concentrated on the people who were nodding, smiling or at least looking neutral. This helped my confidence to return and I could carry on. I recommend you do the same. There is very little chance of a cabal of hecklers disrupting your talk, so you will probably only face one person and there are plenty of other people in the audience to interact with.
If there is just one comment, I would just ignore it and carry on as if nothing happened. If the talk is internal and heckler is your boss, then you have a different problem and you need to stop and get more detail on what is causing the unhappiness. If it is a sharp elbowed rival, I would just ignore the interruption. If the rival or the heckler at a public speech should continue with their outbursts, then you have to stop and deal with it. How should we deal with it though?
First of all we need to understand this person is not your friend, so forget trying to win them over to your point of view. They are interrupting everything to show the rest of the audience how awesome and smart they are, by challenging the speaker on what they are saying. I would ask them to elaborate on their point. I would look straight at them the whole time and not nod or move my face. Nodding looks like you are agreeing with what they saying and we may do it out of nervousness or habit. Don’t. Just look at them and let them speak. When they finish, we start our reply and we keep maintaining eye contact and after that we never give them any more eye contact. We address the rest of our answer to the other members of the audience.
By ignoring them, we are taking all the air out of their balloon and withdrawing the ego driven attention they have been so fervently seeking. We look at the members of the audience who look friendly, supportive or at least not negative. We give them each six seconds of eye contact and we just keep repeating this throughout the rest of the talk.
We will do our best to answer their concern and one thing we should never do is ask if they are happy with our explanation. They are not heckling to get illumination. They are there to provide heat to the speaker and make us look bad. We just give our answer and we say something like, “Now I will get back to our topic for today” and we just keep going, ignoring them the rest of time. If the heckler is taking the talk off topic, we should stop them and say we will be happy to discuss their point after the talk and then get back to what we were saying. If they still want to continue, again, we tell them we are happy to talk at the end and we pick up where we left off.
The key to remember is that even though we can be quite nervous without this extra pressure, the majority of the audience are with us. They think the heckler is a jerk and very rude, so they immediately side with us against them. They didn’t come here to be part of a bun fight between the speaker and the crowd and they feel their time is being wasted by this very selfish person. So keep going and look confident and positive, no matter how you are feeling on the inside. The audience will go with your confidence and support you.