Have you checked there’s nothing distracting your audience?

On 22nd May 2024 the British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, stepped out of the door at 10 Downing Street to a wall of journalists and photographers to announce that he was calling a general election.

A moment of great importance; his opportunity to show his leadership skills and authority to the world.

I know he was calling a general election because the newscaster told me before they showed his speech but I couldn’t actually tell you what he said.

It’s not that what he was saying wasn’t important.

Nor was it to do with my personal political views.

The problem was that he stepped outside in his suit straight into a torrential downpour. As he spoke all I could do was watch his suit get wetter and wetter.

I questioned who had suggested that presenting such important news outside in a downpour was a good idea. I questioned why he wasn’t wearing at least a coat or holding an umbrella … were there no aides who could have come outside with their umbrella and held one over him too?

Would it have been a stretch to find a gazebo of some sort? I wondered what sort of events were going on in London that they couldn’t have hired a venue where he and the journalists could stay dry.

I considered how my children as teenagers had refused to take coats to school and wondered if maybe he had similarly, petulantly, refused to put a coat on despite it being suggested.

I was entirely distracted by the rain steadily falling and soaking him. By the fabric soaking up water down past his shoulders. I wasn’t listening to what he had to say.

Although you’re unlikely to need to stand in front of your audience in the rain you may well be asked to speak in front of something that distracts. You might have posters behind you or a projector positioned so you’re lit up by the picture on your slides. And your audience will be wondering about these and not concentrating on what you have to say.

So next time you’re asked to speak, take a look around you before you stand up. Position yourself, so that you’re creating a situation where your audience are concentrating on what you’re saying and not what’s going on around you!