1 July 2009

There's no such thing as a boring subject

One of the more memorable lines from the late David Ellis-Jones, with whom I used to teach presentation and communication skills at the Henley Management College, was "There's no such thing as a boring subject; there are only boring speakers."

People often didn't believe him and often don't believe me when I repeat the line. Anyone with similar doubts should have a look at this recent posting from Chris Witt to see what an interesting topic 'bacteria' can be.

One of the least promising subjects I ever heard a presenter talking about was the history of changes in UK retirement pensions. The speaker was Steve Bee of Scottish Life, whom I saw holding an audience of 800+ riveted and entertained by the topic.

He also taught me something new. Although I'd been advocating the use of 'chalk and talk' (i.e. writing and/or drawing stuff up on a blackboard or flip chart as you go along) for years, I also used to enter the caveat that people in big audiences may not be able to see what you're doing.

But Steve Bee used a visualiser, a technologically slicker version of the old blank rolls of acetate on overhead projectors. His only visual aid was a blank sheet of paper, on which he gradually drew an ever more complicated diagram that was not only critical to his general argument, but was also clearly visible on the screen above him - and made me realise that 'chalk and talk' can be as effective with a huge audience as it can be with a small one.

On the subject of 'boring subjects', one of the interesting things on the British political scene in the recent past has been the rising esteem for the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, whose star has risen on the back of his ability to sound as though he's talking more sense about complicated economic and financial topics than most of his competitors.

However boring and incomprehensible such subjects may seem at first sight - or when coming out of the mouths of Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling - Cable talks about them with clarity and authority.

And it's probably no coincidence that, unlike most of his political opponents, he's one of the ever-decreasing number of MPs who actually had a proper job outside politics before becoming a full-time politician.

As chief economist at Shell, making economics intelligible to colleagues who weren't trained as economists must have been a routine part of Vince Cable's everyday working life - that has now, in his 'new' life, become his strongest 'political' asset.http://www.pensionsguru.guru/

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