The story of last week’s BLArticle® centered on a ridiculous move by another professional speaker who seemed fixated on a message I commonly deliver. In his tirade, he referred to me as a “scab picker” and I used that attack as a leaping off point for a critical presentation. A number of emails arrived on my computer with questions such as: “Why didn’t you take this person on? Why didn’t you put this person back in his place?” It made me realize that this situation is not uncommon for others, and can make people extremely anxious. It needs to be addressed carefully.
At the risk of sounding arrogant, I could carve up anyone who wants to play in front of a crowd with me. This has nothing to do with how talented I may or may not be; clip a microphone around your neck for three decades and you’ll be pretty good at holding your own in front of a crowd too. However, that doesn’t mean we demonstrate our competence by destroying those who take us on.
Go watch a comedian and you’ll know just what I mean. That genre suggests that anything goes. Want to shout something out or heckle a comedian? It depends on the particular comedian, but like it or not, it’s part of the price of admission. If you do feel like heckling a comedian, no one is going to feel sorry for you if that comedian twists you into knots for doing it. It’s all part of the show.
However, public speaking is not standup comedy. The first move a professional speaker will make, when inappropriate comments are thrown their way, will no doubt surprise you. It is to do absolutely nothing. Believe it or not, sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes they say things they don’t really mean, or their words just come out wrong. They don’t mean to confront, and therefore the first rule of thumb is “the first one is free.”
Let me tell you why a confrontation is not the right tactic when you’re dealing with inappropriate comments. Whether it’s another speaker or an audience member, when someone says something that is insensitive, the entire audience knows it. As a matter of fact, the entire audience is often appalled by it. If you read one of the comments that was posted last week, it was from someone who was actually in that audience and remembers that comment. They don’t remember anything else the speaker said because they got up, and walked out on the speaker.
People know it takes courage to speak in front on an audience. Even if they don’t agree with everything you might have to say, they don’t appreciate someone embarrassing the speaker with inappropriate comments. The audience knows that the person who makes that kind of comment is a knucklehead. There’s no need to confuse them. If you respond with an attack of your own, it may feed your ego, but it has the potential to turn an audience against you.
Next week, we’ll examine what happens if this kind of aggressive behavior continues. For right now, the message is a simple one: Remember, “the first one is free”, maintain your dignity, and move on.