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Hecklers on a high

A CAULDRON-LIKE atmosphere was created by AME delegates for the NCE Communication Competition as three teams of young municipal engineers got their first taste of running a public meeting.

Hampshire County Council narrowly beat Ove Arup teams from Leeds and Newcastle in the challenge to persuade the East Enders of Albert Square that the economic benefits of an extended East London line would be worth the invasion of lorries carrying tunnelling equipment. The three teams of three, each giving a 20 minute presentation, were judged on audibility, use of visual aids, quality of case, response to questions from the floor and team work.

NCE editor Mike Winney, one of the judges of the final, said: 'All three teams did extremely well to withhold heckling that was a bit over the top and worse than in previous years. A weak team would simply have folded.'

Angry aitches were dropped in earnest as soon as Hampshire kicked off the first presentation. Methods of disrupting the presentations included Ken Hall of Middlesbrough City Council, posing as a fruit and veg seller with a mobile phone, bellowing about apples and pears at the top of his voice, and ignoring the forceful pleas of Hampshire Chairman Stephen Brooks to take his call outside.

The most crushing wit of all was saved for Arups Newcastle chairman Alan Dunlop, who introduced himself to calls of 'I hope you are going to tread carefully,' and 'We are tired of you already.'

Most of the contestants took the experience in good heart. Rebecca Moxen of Arups Leeds, even relished the experience, despite the wolf whistles, saying that it brought a new dimension to the competition after very little heckling in the earlier rounds. But other contestants were disappointed not to be given the chance to show how much work they had put into their presentations.

Ken Pratt of Arups Leeds said: 'You couldn't get your point of view across. We put a lot of work into getting our presentation together but we never got a chance to show what we could do.'

While certain members of the audience were appalled by the 'childish and irresponsible' heckling, Ken Hall, who with Harry Smith of Wirral Borough Council, was joint heckler in chief, claimed that it was no more than the contestants could expect for real. 'I held a public meeting recently and before I got my first words out, three people stood up and started arguing with each other.'

All the contestants admitted that addressing a public meeting would not seem so intimidating again. According to Debra Larkman, training co- ordinator for Ove Arup, who submitted 10 teams: 'We regard this competition as a key part of our training. Some of these people have never spoken in front of even a few people, let alone a public meeting.'

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