A RECIPE FOR PROTECTING EVENT SPEAKERS FROM AGGRESSIVE AUDIENCE GUESTS:

4 Jan

DC has an industry of Think Tanks and Foundations where men and women are entertained for free with lunch and sodas following.  Themes include human rights, law, tort, reform, religion, airline security, terrorism, health care, poverty, peace, war, equity and justice for all depending on who’s interpreting the First Amendment. Forums include book signings, lectures, fireside chats without a fire. Guests include authors, scholars, radio show hosts, diplomats, newspaper columnists, the occasional celebrity of the traditional kind, current and retired government officials,  

Calendars of public affairs are available in print and online. Anyone can come. And they do. Audience attendees include media, policy makers, aides to legislators, students and general public. Some audience guests are wanted. Others aren’t.

At one recent event, an older woman ran in 2/3rds of the way through the discourse between two world renowned former senior ranking government officials. The harried woman sat silently until the Q&A. Rushing the stage, she approached one speaker. He did not recognize her. She knew exactly who he was, unhappy with his having responded to her correspondence, before this event, he could be of no assistance. The concern in the distinguished man’s face was apparent as he began edging away from the woman seguying her conversation to talks she had with police. In Boston. She said.

One event co-ordinator concerned with the need for heightened security wants to mitigate future situations on handling attendees he feels pose a potential threat to speakers, without inviting litigation or unwarranted negative media attention. He said, “If speakers don’t bring their own aides, they are pretty much on their own if there is a problem. Our people, focused on their event assignmen,t are untrained in security.” 

Here are Ten Preparedness Steps Of Action to be distributed to guest speakers and all employees prior to their arriving at the event:

1-     Assign one primary employee, an event “shadow” to each panel guest introducing them before the event.

2-     Create signals guests can summons emergency aid with. Signals must be obvious, distinct, even silly. No coughing three times or wiping eyeglasses which are easy to misinterpret as normal behaviors. Carol Burnett’s ear tugging at the end of each television show was an “I love you” signal for her grandmother.

3-     Script the “shadow” with a simple phrase to distract the problem audience member from their talk with the guest speaker. An example of what the “shadow” can say forcefully  to separate the speaker from the audience member can be “Thank you so much for being patient while speaker finishes their answer to me. Sir/madam speaker do you mind talking with me over here to the side, now, where I can hear you better without all the background distraction.”

4-     Move the official to the pre-arranged exit door isolating them from the audience guests.

5-     Escort the official to his/her transportation. In this case, the guest speaker stood unescorted on the sidewalk risking a second confrontation from the aggressive audience member.

6-     Recommend event photographers and videographers take crowd shots of event attendees for a pictorial record. At another event, a rude audience member kept placing her hat before her face whenever the camera panned audience her way. Days later, sans hat, she used paper handouts as blockers whenever the camera panned her way.

How does one photograph guests who mask their face? In the case of this audience member, her face was uncovered when she used both hands to fill her plate with free food.

7-      Provide photos of the confrontational event guest to management, a second photo to security and local PD, possibly a third photo to the official themselves to share with security at other events they speak at.  Some event  audience attendees “make the rounds.”

8-     Rehearse all employees on the Ten Steps of Action.

9-      Rehearse the guest on the order of the steps of actions: “If you feel threatened, you will pull your ear, Sally will come over, interrupt and you will begin to walk ahead with Sally to the door stage left.”

10- Provide employees with cell phones or walkie talkies connected to building security if assistance or rapid response is needed.

Therein lies the high cost of free events. 

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