Being a speaker in front of an audience carries with it a degree of power – power that must not be abused. Sadly, not everyone sees it this way.
A friend sent me the link to this article, by a public speaker in Australia who starts out by admitting, “Maybe I’m boring. A boring public speaker” and then goes on to get very cross with people who chat to each other instead of listening to him. Of course I agree that it’s rude to have a private conversation while somebody is trying to make a speech or presentation and I would be the first to shush people who were disturbing, for example, the father of the bride, as mentioned by Mr Goers. But I’m talking about well intentioned, inexperienced speakers who may not be delivering a ball of fire but are doing their best. I’m not talking about arrogant speakers who consider it their right to hog the limelight, whether what they’re saying is of the slightest interest to the audience or not. And I can’t help feeling it’s rather telling that Mr Goers never charges a fee for his speaking ‘services’, because he has a “terrible fear of not being asked”.
It is the responsibility of every speaker to deliver a talk that is worth listening to, one that is either informative or entertaining – and preferably both. (Entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean funny but that’s a subject for another post.) Just because you’re the one holding the microphone, it does not give you the right to spout a lot of self-indulgent “schtick” and expect the audience to listen to you out of politeness. If giving this talk is about meeting your need for attention, rather than about offering something valuable to the people in front of you, it’s you who should be questioning your social skills – not the poor, restless audience.
Deliberately setting out to humiliate people who are not hanging on your every word is a policy I dislike intensely. If you’re faced with genuine hecklers who are determined to undermine you, this calls for firm action and, although I still believe it’s better to treat them with respect than to go straight for the jugular, I accept there are times when the metaphorical stiletto is the best way of preventing things from getting out of hand. But before you cast even the smallest put-down, you must be sure you’ve got right on your side, that what you’re saying is worthy of the audience’s attention. Otherwise, what you may term “shaming a social boor” is, in reality, bullying.