Editor's Blog

A prime example of what can go wrong
Endless careful script-writing in readiness for an hour-long speech followed by rehearsals and preparation for the correct style of delivery. Sound checks done, thoughtful set design and careful security management. What can possibly go wrong?

The CEO goes up on stage with a positive crowd willing her to succeed. She has a couple of great new strategies to deliver success and the support in the room is palpable. It all begins well but then a prankster avoids security and somehow gets to the stage, distracting the speaker and pretending to present her with a P45 form. He then goes to another member of the management team in the audience with whom he pretends to be in cahoots while the cameras follow him. All eyes are on him. The speech is interrupted. The management team looks distinctly uncomfortable. Perhaps they were planning just such a coup. There was a sense of “Et tu, Brute?” in the air and one person looked as if he had been caught with his hand in the knife drawer.

Finally they wrestle the interloper out of the room and the CEO begins again, trying to wallpaper over the cracks with a couple of limp jokes. But then the voice cracks and chokes and she disintegrates into an acute coughing fit that will not go away. She tries water, she is brought a cough sweet but still the delivery still can’t happen. She continues to cough and can’t speak and then the audience, sensing disaster, comes together and stands to give an impromptu ovation to a speaker who is speechless. It is a grand gesture of warmth and empathy designed to help the leader and prevent her from drowning but the event is heavy with irony. Embarrassed members of the audience exchange looks of fear and loathing.

Then, just when the audience is returning to a comfort zone and the speaker is seemingly going to reach the end without further mishap, the campaign slogan stuck on the back of the set begins to disintegrate. It reads: “Building a country that works for everyone.” Unfortunately it isn’t well built. It began to fall apart, with an F and E dropping to the ground, leaving “or everyon” up there. Was it a metaphor for the future? Who knows? But it was certainly a disastrous presentation.

It was, of course, our prime minister, Theresa May yesterday in Manchester. But it could have happened to anyone. She did nothing wrong. Security let her down, the set-builders let her down and someone up there chose a dreadful moment to give her a chronic cough. It will have sent shudders through the souls of conference organisers everywhere and reminded them that disasters always come in threes and that it doesn’t matter how often you rehearse and how carefully you plan, the business of organising events is a terrifying one that only the insane should consider as a profession.

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