On Friday – during a speech in Bangkok – I called a member of the audience an a**hole, and got a way with it, and it gives us a lesson in how to become better as a speaker.

I do not often do it, but once in a while – when the group, the conference and the timing is right – I have a story that I tell where I call out one of the audience members for being an a**hole. It is a dangerous move. Especially since it normally happens in the beginning of the speech, because if you get it wrong and the person you are calling out gets angry or annoyed you have lost the whole audience for the rest of the speech.

But I like to do it once in a while. (I guess I like the thrill of taking a risk in my speeches.)

The trick is to know WHEN it is acceptable to call someone an a**hole, or say/do something equally “unacceptable”.

So how do you know? You have to look in the eye’s of the person you are thinking of interacting with in a provocative way to see if he (or she) has a sense of humour. If you see the sparkle in the eye, the relaxed body language, the genuine smile then you can go for it.

Oh, and do it with a smile yourself to soften the blow (ie so that the person understands that you are doing what you are doing in a tongue-in-cheek-kind of a way.)

My advice here is not that you call people names in your speeches. (It really is a risky move…) What I am saying is that you need to practice your ability to “read” a person before you go into any interaction with them, especially if you are going to say something that might be perceived as risky (ie making a joke, saying something provocative or going into a debate about something with them.)

When judging if a person can take it you also need to judge if the group as a whole can take it (in other words you need to assess BOTH the person and the group. Sometimes the person can take it, but the group can not. If a person can NOT take it then the group will very likely turn against you and not take it either. But if the person CAN take the joke there is a big chance the group will accept it too, and that is why it is so important to know WHO to interact with in situations like this.

Now you might say that using words like that is NEVER ok in a speech, but I beg to differ. Everything is down to the very specific feeling you have in the room at the time.

And I have to say that it worked. The audience gave me a standing ovation after the speech and the man (pictured) I had called out came up to me specifically after the speech and thanked me for the speech and for having fun with him.

So practise your ability to judge a persons (and a groups) ability to laugh at themselves and to not take things too personally. One way you can do that is to guess if a person is going to laugh at a joke before you get to the punch line.


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