Hot Seat – the ultimate test for a public speaker

Last week, we at Bangalore Toastmasters Club conducted a HOT SEAT contest to commemorate our 600 th meeting.

HOT SEAT, in my opinion, is the ultimate test for a public speaker. You are asked to speak on a topic for two minutes (one minute for the topic and another against). Next, the judges rattle you with their snipers or questions which can unsettle even the most seasoned speakers.
You are supposed to be cool, calm and composed and not get provoked ! extra points for using humor and for smart gags as repartee ! It gets you out of the comfort zone and separates the men from the boys or women from the girls in public speaking !

Some of the college kids handled the pressure extremely well. They’ve got used to stress interviews and it showed in the contest ! I felt the judges were quite mild and could have challenged the speakers a bit.

Malcolm Kushner, author of “The Light Touch” ( a MUST read for anyone who wants to use humor in speeches), talks about Eva Arden, an actress performing in a play. At a crucial moment, the telephone beside her rang. It wasn’t supposed to. When she looked at her leading man, he barely suppressed a smile. He was playing a prank on her. She couldn’t scream or get upset as the hall was packed ! A hot seat indeed ! She answered the phone and looked at her leading man and said “It’s for you !”. Kushner calls this reframing. She threw the hot seat back at her tormentor. I am extremely curious to know how our hero handled this boomerang !

Here is my recipe to handle a HOTSEAT.

  • Don’t say ” Now that’s a good question’ That’s too condescending !
  • Use assertive posture – Head held high, no slouching.
  • Don’t give a wishy -washy response
  • Be specific and direct in your response.

For customer service executives, I guess HOTSEAT is a way of life ! This is a hapless breed which says ” When you are right no one remembers. When you are wrong, no one forgets ! “

My favourite HOTSEAT response is attributed to the Hollywood Diva, Zsa Zsa Gabor, who had a masculine voice. Here is an exchange during a press conference.

Male reporter: Have you ever been mistaken for a man ?
Zsa Zsa Gabor: No. Have you ?

Devastating !

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