U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May felt the pains of on-stage problems during her closing keynote speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on Oct. 4. While most speakers have persevered through distracted audience members, AV challenges, or teleprompter glitches, May’s message was lost among a series of issues summarized by a headline in Germany’s Bild: “Everything went wrong for Lady Brexit.”
Throughout the speech, May battled a persistent cough, an understandable challenge for a world leader with an overwhelming workload that leaves little time for rest. In addition to throat issues, the lettering on the wall behind her — “Building A Country That Works For Everyone” — slowly fell apart to eventually read “Building A Country That Works or Everyon.” Not exactly the most inspirational message for the audience. However, coughing fits and lettering malfunctions were overshadowed by a much bigger interruption: Comedian Simon Brodkin walked up to the podium to hand the Prime Minister a P45, the British equivalent of a pink slip to fire an employee.
The stunt was in good fun — Brodkin has pulled similar pranks at events featuring Donald Trump and Kanye West — but it revealed a glaring lack of security measures at the conference. A string of terrorist attacks in London and Manchester have shaken Britain over the past year, and a high-profile appearance by the Prime Minister should be heavily guarded. Members of Parliament expressed concerns about the potential for a tragedy with lackluster security. “There should be some very serious questions,” George Freeman, a Conservative MP, told the BBC. “That could have been a terrorist.”
How did a comedian manage to get into the conference? Lizzie Dearden at Independent wrote that Brodkin posed as a photographer and made it through the airport-style security screening and badge verification process. The bigger question, perhaps, is how he managed to get within inches of the Prime Minister. As event organizers work to create intimate environments, one idea may be to place speakers closer to the audience. But that makes it easier for pranksters and protesters to disrupt the speaker — or create a more serious situation. At the Airbnb Open last year, a protester snuck into the theater and climbed on stage as Hollywood star Ashton Kutcher was speaking. Similar to what happened during the Conservative Party Conference, the incident was only a disruption. However, either could have turned into a dangerous situation.
Do you take any extra precautions to keep keynote speakers safe? Have you hired additional security personnel to monitor the area directly in front of the stage? Go to Catalyst to share your thoughts on security in general-session environments.