If you're gearing up to give a presentation and are concerned about the venue rather than your material or ability to present it, then these tips from Confessions of a Public Speaker should come in handy.
Hecklers are rare. When it happens, the audience is usually as frustrated with him you are. Use this to your advantage. If you engage a heckler, you often look mean, but if you get the audience on your side, things end quickly.
Hecklers are people who wish they were on stage, are drunk, or think they are helping you by contributing.
How to prevent:
Set the rules for how the audience can interact with you. If you want questions held until the end, say so; or, if you're OK with them at any time, let the audience know. Also set boundaries for Twitter and event chat rooms. I always give out my email address so everyone in the room has an outlet to say things they're not sure are appropriate during the lecture.
How to respond:
Always remember you have more power than any heckler. If you have the microphone, you are amplified; he is not. You can interrupt or talk over him, and he can do nothing to stop you. It's really not a fair fight in any sense. As soon as a heckler realizes this, he will silence himself.
Address whoever spoke and ask him to hold his comments or questions until the end. Done politely and calmly, this nearly always works. It shows you won't be rattled and that you'll stop the problem before it gets out of hand. Even if someone makes a joke at your expense, don't make it into an argument; politely ask him to wait until your presentation is over.
If you are confident, you can quickly dispatch a heckler with a joke or funny comment—but be careful. If you're not good at this, you're entering a battle you might lose. It's easier to laugh at the joke, even if it's at your expense. Say, "That's interesting, thank you" but continue with your point. This gives him some respect, as you're acknowledging his voice, but keeps you in control.
If someone is clearly out of line and upsetting other people, ask the event host to help. If the crowd is hostile or behaving inappropriately, the host should be willing to take action. You can ask the heckler to leave if he can't respect your rules, and the host should help make this happen if it's necessary.
Learn more about this topic from Confessions of a Public Speaker.
In this hilarious and highly practical book, author and professional speaker Scott Berkun reveals the techniques behind what great communicators do, and shows how anyone can learn to use them well. For anyone else who talks and expects someone to listen, Confessions of a Public Speaker provides an insider's perspective on how to effectively present ideas to anyone. You'll get new insights into the art of persuasion, based on Scott's 15 years of experience speaking to crowds of all sizes.