How To Be An Effective Communicator: Heckling

What You Say To A Heckler: Lincoln’s Response
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

If you speak publicly, you need to know in advance what you will say in response to questions, objections, or heckling. This requires forward thinking—you anticipate what might happen, even worst-case scenarios.

Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. He was called the “best stump-speaker of the West,” and one reason was his ability to maintain control of difficult situations on the rough-and-tumble, often impolite American frontier. (Lincoln’s use of humor is covered in the DVD “Lincoln on Communication.”)

In 1856, a heckler interrupted Lincoln several times. Each time Lincoln managed to turn back the challenge with humor that was devastating to the interrupter. When the heckler tried again, Lincoln replied:
“Look here, my friend, you are only making a fool of yourself by exposing yourself to the ridicule which I have thus far succeeded in bringing upon you every time you have interrupted me. You ought to know that men whose business it is to speak in public, make it a part of their business to have something always ready for just such fellows as you are.

(In this quote, the italics are mine. For a complete description of this event, see Michael Burlingame’s superb biography, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: A LIFE. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, I, p. 427)

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