What’s the best way for politicians to handle hecklers who interrupt a speech?
Should they give hecklers a forum to express their views, or is it better to embarrass them by mocking their ideas in front of the crowd?
As these videos of Mitt Romney and President Obama show, both approaches can work. Although the two men differed in tone, both employed a similar tactic: They offered the floor to their hecklers before re-claiming the floor. That approach helps neutralize opponents who would otherwise continue shouting during their speeches.
It’s worth noting that both men were speaking to friendly crowds – an important point that worked in their favor.
Last month, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president for the National Rifle Association, was interrupted by protesters during a speech to an arguably unfriendly crowd.
Brad Phillips, the author of The Media Training Bible, says that “because security was on hand to escort the protesters out, Mr. LaPierre did the right thing by stopping, waiting until the protesters had been removed, and then resuming his speech.”
Responding to hecklers is similar to responding to an ambush interview, Phillips says. In his book, he writes, “If you respond to a media ambush with defensiveness, anger, or shock, the news outlet will run the tape of your bad reaction repeatedly. You win an ambush by denying the media a great visual… By remaining calm, you prevent reporters from getting the compelling ‘money shot’ they desire.”
Of course, if all else fails, there’s always the Ronald Reagan approach of just telling the heckler to “shut up.”