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How To Handle Objections And Hecklers


Objection handling is a common challenge in public speaking.

That’s not surprising: even if you’re really well prepared, an unexpected question, heckle or interruption can really throw you off your stride. If handled badly, heckles or objections can escalate into arguments, which will diminish your credibility and reputation. 

However, by employing these objection handling techniques and adopting the right mindset, you will be able find opportunities to understand your audience’s challenges much more deeply, and collaborate to find a mutually agreeable solution.

So how can you defuse the heckles assertively and move towards having better conversations?

The difference between an objection and a heckle

While objections and heckles can sometimes feel like the same thing, there is an important difference. 

Objections are essentially a disagreement with something in your content, whether that’s a strategy or plan, update or discussion. 

A heckle, on the other hand, does not necessarily have to be related to your content or communication. The aim of a heckle is to disrupt your flow and to throw you off your game.

However, both objections and heckles are rooted in emotion.

Emotions v logic when handling objections

We all know the logical way to handle an objection. 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.

The following tips will help you to deal with the emotions that sit behind the objections or and give you advice on how to handle hecklers.

Objection and heckler handling techniques 

As stressful as objections can be, having a powerful strategy to deal with them will equip you with the skills to manage the situation in a cool and composed manner. 

Let’s take a look at some essential tips to help you navigate these challenging moments as a professional speaker.

Ensure you are prepared

Some topics or presentations will be more contentious than others, but sometimes even the most neutral of topics can elicit an unexpectedly emotional objection.

When you’re preparing your speech or presentation, try to think carefully about your audience’s profile and if there are any parts that they are likely to object to. Ensure you have any information or data prepared that people may ask about, even if you’re not planning to talk about it in your main presentation. 

The more prepared you are for objections, the calmer and more in control you will feel when they happen.

Also, if you are sharing information that is likely to elicit a highly emotional response, such as redundancies or budget cuts, ensure that you demonstrate genuine empathy.

Don’t take it personally

One of the biggest challenges about objections and heckles and the reason they can often end badly, is that we take it personally when people object to our content. 

However, if we’re not careful, our own emotional response can get in the way of successful business communication.

If you do get heckled, avoid losing your temper or snapping back: this will damage your reputation even if you have been unfairly treated.

 Instead, enter into a friendly discussion with the heckler or objector. 

Stay calm, keep your words slow and measured and invite the other person to tell you more, discouraging personal comments and keeping the discussion on topic.

If the objector is determined to discuss something else, then put it to the rest of the room. Is this something that everyone would like to talk about right now? If so, be prepared to push your agenda to one side. If not, ask the objector if they would be prepared to discuss it afterwards, so that everyone else’s time is respected.

Empathise with the objector

You may be thinking, “Great, empathy, yes, I can do that. I’m a decent person. I probably empathise 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. 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. Let them talk while you aim to understand where their pain comes from.

How to show empathy

  • Switch your mindset to one of talking to one of listening. Encourage the other person to speak and make sure you listen with the intent to understand. 
  • Soften your stance: take a step back with one leg, tilt your head slightly. Show the person you’re giving them the opportunity to speak with a palms up gesture.
  • Don’t offer your solution straight away: give the other person time and space so that they feel heard.

Clarify the issue

Imagine walking into a doctor’s office with a pain in your leg. After the doctor empathises 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 empathise, 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.

Ways to respond calmly to a heckler/objector:

  1. Ask TED questions to encourage the other person to talk: ‘Tell me more about that…’, ‘Can you explain what that’s like for you…’, ‘Describe a typical day in the office at the moment…’. This will give you valuable insight that will help understand their motives. 
  2. Ask what their ideal solution to the problem would be.
  3. Don’t snap into ‘solving’ mode straight away: listen to understand, and be aware that the real objection may be different to the actual words someone is saying.

As well as giving the other person the opportunity to speak, it will also give you valuable thinking time to help you craft your response as a proposal. 

Respond to the objection with a proposal

Imagine you want to surprise your partner with an engagement ring. 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.

Check that everyone is satisfied before moving on

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 objection handling 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.

Coaching courses for objection handling

Coaching in objection handling is an excellent way to grow your confidence and ability to navigate difficult situations in business communication.

Get in touch with us today and find out about courses we offer in objection handling and questioning and listening skills.