People have been calling British Prime Minister Theresa May’s most recent speech a disaster of epic proportions.
According to one report, “Ms May needed a strong speech to help fight off rivals to her job, including ambitious Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. But things did not go to plan. Ms May struggled with a cough and a hoarse voice that forced her to pause repeatedly. Midway through the speech, a prankster walked up and handed Ms May a P45 — the form given to people being laid off in Britain.”
And to top it all off, near the end of her speech, letters started to fall from the slogan on the wall behind her.
Politics and nitpicking aside, she talked for a full hour without a break, using determination, passion, and self-deprecating humour to deliver her message. She spoke with a clear voice (most of the time), vocal variety, gestures, eye contact, and loads of stories. She ignored the interrupter and other distractions, made light of her vocal challenges, remained calm as she tried to get her voice back, and finished on her own terms.
As a speaker who has had an occasional misstep in their presentations, I watched her speech with interest and a growing sense of déjà vu. The voice thing? Yep, that has happened. The interrupter? That, too. Misbehaving props? Never good.
I love watching speeches. Whether I like the speaker, their topic, and/or their style, there is always something I see and hear that I want to do – or not do – the next time I’m on stage. For example, my takeaways from May’s speech include:
- have a glass of water handy – air conditioning and pressure and high expectations and speaking from the one spot while reading notes and staying close to the microphone can all play havoc with your voice;
- take the time you need to regroup and reset – if the content is worth listening to, people will wait;
- make sure someone has your back … or at least some cough lollies – nice save by the Chancellor, who also inadvertently provided May with one of the best jokes of the night;
- let applause run its natural course – if people want to applaud, let them, especially if it will give you a few precious extra seconds to regain your voice; and
- humour works – especially when other things do not go to plan.
A disaster of epic proportions? Only if you want it to be. And if you’re not sure either way, watch the video and then ask yourself how you would have fared under those circumstances. That might be the most important takeaway of all.