Use the Bounceback Question to Put Troublemakers in the Audience Back on their Heels

In last week’s post we looked at using the ricochet question (where you take someone’s question and refer it to others in the audience) to handle a skeptical or difficult questioner during a presentation or speech.

Basically, you just refer the question to someone in the audience or the audience as a whole.

Before I answer that, does anybody in the audience have any [thoughts, direct experience with the issue, etc.]?

This technique has a dual benefit of getting the audience on your side and buying you some time to think. But if the ricochet question doesn’t defuse the situation, and you sense that the questioner is simply intent on continued disruption, you have to ratchet up your level of control.

Moderately hostile questioners can sometimes be put back on their heels with a bounceback question.  It can be as simple as asking for a name:

“Sorry, your name is….?”


“Sorry, I missed your name….”

Many disruptive audience members are in-the-flesh versions of Internet trolls: courageous only when anonymous. They often will shut up when dragged into the sunlight.

Another bounceback technique: Simply ask the hostile questioner what he or she would do in the situation. Most won’t have an answer, or if they do it is likely to be ill-reasoned. And even if your heckler does provide a semi-coherent response, you have steered the conversation back to a landscape of facts, where you presumably have an advantage.

If the actions of a hostile audience member escalate to the level of actual heckling, there are some excellent techniques you can employ to gain the upper hand. We’ll cover those in a series of posts over the next few days. Stay tuned.



Author: admin

Carl Hausman is Professor of Journalism at Rowan University, the author of several books about media, and a commentator about the role of media and ethics in civic life.

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