28 September 2009

Why doesn't anyone warn politicians about becoming autocue automatons?

When we were being taught about road safety at primary school, we had to learn a slogan that’s still firmly entrenched in my mind:

“Look right, look left and right again and quick march across the road you go.”

What brought it back into my head this morning was the sight of Alistair Darling speaking to the Labour Party conference, where he seemed to be following a revised version of the slogan:

“Look right for 1o seconds, look left for ten seconds, look right for 10 seconds and turn your head when you get to the end of the sentence.”

In other words, like David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher, he has a problem with reading from teleprompter screens.

The commonest one, which you can variations of by clicking on any of the above names, involves spending too much time looking in one direction rather than the other.

Sometimes, it creates the impression that you’re so tied to your script that you daren’t look at the other screen until you get to the next full stop (even though you’re supposed to be pretending you don’t have a script).

Sometimes it creates such regular movements of the head from side to side that the regularity becomes noticeable.

And sometimes it excludes half the audience for very extended periods of time (e.g. Cameron and Brown).

Given the high stakes involved in some of these speeches, I never cease to be amazed that no one alerts the speakers to such an obvious problem, let alone spends a few minutes coaching them to make a better job of it.

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