The principles which should inform all Speakers’ Corner events are that they should
- be attractive and accessible to all
- be strictly non-adversarial and non-partisan
- provide all participants with an equal opportunity to express their views, within the law, and respect diversity of opinion
- be conducted calmly and without rancour
- seek common ground rather than confrontation
- aim to engage, inform and enrich opinion and, wherever possible, entertain.
Speakers’ Corner Trust, Organising Speakers’ Corner Events
SCT’s note on Organising Speakers’ Corner Events provides guidance on the design and conduct of Speakers’ Corner meetings, including the advice for chairs (moderators) and speakers which is summarised below.
The Role of the Chair
The chair is responsible for setting the tone of the event, for facilitating, moderating and where necessary steering discussion, for ensuring that every participant has the opportunity to contribute and for keeping good order.
Ideally, chairs should familiarise themselves with the main points which the speakers – if speakers are involved – propose to make and with the themes which they feel should be explored.
In advance of the meeting and in consultation with the organisers and speakers, the chair should have a clear plan as to how to develop the discussion to cover as many issues and include as many contributors as possible. However, that plan should also be sufficiently flexible to allow the debate to develop its own momentum and direction naturally.
The better participants understand the rules of engagement, the less it is likely that the chair will have to intervene in proceedings. It may therefore be advisable at the beginning of each event for the chair to summarise the Speakers’ Corner Principles, outline the format of the event and undertake to ensure that every participant will be treated equally.
The chair must judge how long each contributor should be able to speak according to the numbers attending and the time allotted for the event. In principle, participants should be allowed to develop their point but discouraged from making speeches. As many as possible should be encouraged to participate but no-one should be obliged to do so.
Participants, when first contributing, should be asked to state their names and their particular interest, if any, in the subject under discussion.
The Role of Speakers
If speakers are invited, they should be engaged at an early stage in the planning of an event and fully briefed as to the proposed format, target audience and what themes, if any, the organisers hope to air.
Their role is to lead informed discussion but not to dominate it. They should introduce the subject for, as a rule, no more than ten minutes and though they should be given further opportunities to respond to discussion or introduce new ideas or information in the course of the meeting, their contribution is intended principally to encourage the exchange of views and opinions among all the participants rather than win converts to their own.
In cases in which more than one speaker has been invited to put opposing, alternative (or complementary) views on the same subject, they should focus on presenting their own case rather than undermining those of their fellow speaker.
The Conduct of Meetings
The format of Speakers’ Corner meetings should reflect the equality of participants, including speakers, and avoid either hierarchy or confrontation. For this reason, platforms or ‘top tables’ should be avoided and seating should be arranged in the round rather than in theatre style.
While opposing or alternative ideas and opinions will inevitably compete, Speakers’ Corner debates are not intended to be contests resulting in the triumph of one argument over another. A consensus may well develop and, indeed, may in certain circumstances lead to action. That may well be a welcome outcome of a Speakers’ Corner event but it should arise through agreement rather than division.
When, as may occur from time to time, discussions are undermined by unreasonable behaviour, the chair should offer the individual or group the opportunity to come to order. But if problems persist he/she should ask them to leave and, if necessary, suspend the meeting until they have done so. In extreme cases, the police should be called.
Points for Chairs
Before the event
Consult with organisers/speakers on themes and points to cover
Develop a flexible plan to ensure themes are reached
- Agree format with speakers.
At the start of the event
Welcome participants and give out any necessary notices (safety/refreshments etc)
Outline the theme of the meeting and some of the key issues which may be covered
Summarise the Speakers’ Corner Principles which will guide the conduct of the meeting
Suggest a target time for the conclusion of the meeting and indicate, according to numbers present, how long each contributor should speak
- Introduce speakers.
During the discussion
Reiterate the key points which speakers have made as themes for discussion – while encouraging participants to propose their own
Request participants to provide their names and particular interest (if any)
Keep the discussion moving from one theme to another while allowing participants to make their own contributions
Actively seek ideas and solutions as well as complaints and problems
Reintroduce speakers as necessary
- Involve participants who have not spoken before returning to those who have.
At the conclusion of the event
Summarise the themes covered and any consensus reached
Suggest any actions, if appropriate, which participants might wish to consider in order to pursue ideas or issues which have emerged
Give out any relevant closing notices (about future events etc)
Thank speakers and participants.
Points for Speakers
- Before the event
- Discuss the theme, audience and format with the organisers/chair and identify the ideas and issues on which you will focu
- Draw up notes (if required) but, in normal circumstances, do not prepare a speech.
- During the event
- Be as conversational and informal in tone as possible
- Be brief but not superficial
- Be stimulating but not (deliberatively) provocative
- State your disagreement with others but, in normal circumstances, avoid condemning them
- Where appropriate and possible, propose or float positive ideas and solutions to problems
- Encourage and welcome the insights and opinions of others
- If your views have changed as a result of the discussion, say so.
- At the conclusion of the event
- Be available, if possible, for a limited period to continue the discussion informally.