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“Nothing short of fantastic. I would recommend, without reservation, Bob's program to any other sales professional.”

~ Allen L. Howard, CLU, General Manager, New York Life Insurance Company

Ashton Kutcher and…Reverse Hecklers

August 20th, 2013 by Bob Burg

Ashton KutcherInspiring, brilliant, and a much needed lesson for today’s youth!

But that’s not what this post is about.

Last week, actor Ashton Kutcher gave an acceptance speech at the Teen Choice Awards that has already become a YouTube sensation. While sharing inspiring words regarding what he has learned about life and success (cleverly couched within the frame of three counter-intuitive points), he faced a challenge that orators have had to endure and deal with since ancient times and up through the current crop of professional speakers, comedians, actors…and politicians (but, I repeat myself).

Interrupters. And, depending upon the situation, they must be handled correctly or the message can get totally lost.

Now, his wasn’t exactly the same challenge. For most presenters, these interrupters are hecklers whose intent is negative. In the case of Kutcher, it was just the opposite; a small group of young fans who were so enamored by the speaker himself that they weren’t as interested in the important message he wanted to share as in simply gushing over him.

But, that wasn’t part of his agenda. He had a message to share that he believed the young people in the audience and the millions of young people at home needed to hear; an important message; a message that could make a difference in their lives; and a message they are not used to hearing.

So, how would he deal with these, what I call… “reverse hecklers”? He simply ignored them. Like the larger-than-life persona that he is playing in the recently-released movie, he stayed so on point that his message could not possibly be ignored, nor could it be stopped. And, from a certain point on, he had the attention of the crowd. You could see it in their eyes. They were listening, they were captivated. They were “getting it.”

Yes, as a speaker or presenter, there’s a time to respond to interruptions and a time to simply speak through them. Kutcher had enough confidence in himself and his message to know that the latter was the proper course…and so that’s what he did.

And, brilliantly, at that!


20 Responses to “Ashton Kutcher and…Reverse Hecklers”
  1. Kris Jordan said at 10:50 am on

    It seems a bit cold to simply ignore hecklers and “reverse hecklers”, but I have learned that NOT ignoring them is more problematic than giving them time.

    I remember once when I competed in a Toastmaster’s contest, where the audience is typically made up of other Toastmasters who are aware of the time constraints for the speakers, yet I was heckled and didn’t account for that in my timing, so I blew it. Granted, it was a humorous speech and I should have expected that as the crowd grew, I would need to allow more time for laughter/ heckling. Rookie mistake.

    Thanks, Ashton, (and Bob), for giving me permission to ignore them and keep moving forward.

  2. Bob Burg said at 11:09 am on

    Kris: Thank you for your comment! I think there’s a time and place for most everything. Sometimes interrupters do need to be gently and tactfully called out by the presenter. It must be done in such a way that no one is offended; neither they nor the rest of the audience. It can be tricky to pull this off effectively but with time and experience you learn how to do it. There’s also a time to simply ignore them, as Ashton did. And, when I say ignore, I don’t mean that in a way that is cold, but simply in a way that allows you to communicate the message in the most effective way possible. That’s a choice that Ashton might have made on the spot, or, he might have known in advance the kind of “gushing” he would face and made the decision at that time to not let it interrupt the flow of the message. I really don’t know. But, please don’t see ignoring hecklers (or reverse hecklers or interrupters of any kind) as being cold. Not only does it not need to be cold; they need to understand it’s not appropriate behavior.

  3. Funny how being a “geek” or “nerd” has become popular.

  4. Bob, this is such a great post. Not that I’m surprised, since it is YOU who we’re talking about. 🙂

    I was in Las Vegas earlier this year doing a big real estate conference. I had about 1,400-1,500 people in the room and it was a very deep room so I couldn’t see everyone. In the middle of my talk, a group of guys stood up in the back and started heckling me.

    I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I did catch one fleeting comment from one of them while a group of other attendees forced them out. I don’t remember what the comment was that I heard, but I played off it, made a quick joke and moved on. I also said something about wanting to find their bartender and have him make me one of those drinks. We were in Vegas after all!

    People laughed and it eased the tension in the room because it wasn’t just me who was thrown off – it was also the audience. And they didn’t appreciate it any more than I did.

    I found out later that the guys were in fact drunk and had actually brought their drinks into the session. It’s not always easy to get back on track when something like that happens. And, for most speakers, there’s almost no possible way to prepare for that.

    Like you said, we have to know our message, own it, believe in its importance, and deliver it with passion regardless of whether everyone is paying attention or doing their best to disrupt us and our audience.

    P.S. Miss seeing you. It’s been too long. I need to check your schedule and see if we will overlap in any cities soon.

  5. Dear Bob,

    Ditto on every thing Travis said….
    Loved your post Bob… you are a wonderful teacher… Miss you…
    Fist bumps all around the room…

    Patricia Rossi

  6. Bob Burg said at 6:56 pm on

    Patricia: Thank you, awesome friend o’ mine. Much appreciated! And fist bumps to all, including the entire “Rossi Posse”.

  7. Bob Burg said at 6:15 pm on

    Jonathan: 🙂

  8. Bob Burg said at 6:27 pm on

    Travis: Thank you for your kind words and for sharing that story with us. Indeed, sometimes responding verbally is absolutely the correct thing to do. In this case – as you mentioned – it was in order to put the audience at ease and diffuse any uncomfortable feelings. I think Ashton Kutcher responded appropriately based on his unique situation and you responded appropriately based on yours. Way to go! And, yes, miss seeing you, as well. I know you’re continuing to do GREAT things out there!

  9. James Wood said at 6:56 pm on

    I’m of the opinion that he did exactly what he was supposed to do, even if it was difficult to focus on his message. You see, any hesitation or admittance that he heard the ‘hecklers’ would have only encouraged their disruptive behavior. The ability for him to stay on point with his message is admirable, and I can’t say that I would have been as focused. As the message plays out, the ‘hecklers’ eventually give up……realizing that there isn’t anything they can do to dissuade Ashton from giving his speech.

    Plus, I’m certain there had to be a couple heads turning in disgust that may have motivated them to stop their obnoxious shouting. Great point here, Bob!

  10. Bob Burg said at 7:04 pm on

    James: I agree with you completely! I do believe that any acknowledgment would only have encouraged them. It was a bit of a gutsy move on his part to not acknowledge them. However, because one of the first things he did onstage was to basically thank the entire audience for making his career possible, it was handled. Really, I can’t imagine him doing any better with that rather difficult situation. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us!

  11. Lori Sica said at 11:08 pm on

    Great points Bob Thanks for sharing. Distractions are just all over the place and I am so glad he stayed on point, gave more strength to the words he was delivering. In a time where attentions spans seem to be getting shorter it was a well timed excellently executed and to be remembered message.

  12. Geneva said at 11:30 pm on

    Excellent observation of what he did & how to duplicate it.
    Thanks Bob for teaching us even more from his exceptional vid!

  13. Bob Burg said at 6:41 am on

    Lori: Thank you. I love YOUR thoughts on it. Great insights!

  14. Bob Burg said at 6:42 am on

    Geneva: Thank you. Very kind of you to say, my friend! 🙂

  15. I thought he did an amazing job and totally had their attention

  16. Bob Burg said at 11:08 am on

    Carly: I agree on both counts! 🙂

  17. Rajib Baruah said at 12:55 pm on

    Mr Bob, Ashton Kutcher is an excellent orator and there isn’t a single doubt in that. He is simply great not because what he is but because what he really want others to be. As always thanks a lot for this wonderful post. Everyday I learn something new because of you and that’s awesome……. Simply love you a lot.

  18. Bob Burg said at 1:17 pm on

    Rajib: Thank you, great brother. I appreciate your very kind words. And, yes, Ashton’s caring about making a difference for those he could influence came across loud and clear. He did a FANTASTIC job!

  19. Lene Jytte Hansen said at 8:01 pm on

    You see things so clearly Bob!!!! Your words really touch me – AS USUAL BRILLIANT ARTICLE AND TOPIC – I saw the video before your article – Your words makes this message even stronger!!! You keep amazing me!!!
    Lots of LOVE and HUGS from Denmark
    Lene 😀

  20. Bob Burg said at 8:44 pm on

    Lene: Thank you, great friend. What a kind and complimentary thing to say. I appreciate ya’ greatly! Love and Hugs back! 🙂

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