8 October 2009

I was wrong about Cameron looking at screens

A few days ago, I was recommending that David Cameron ought to do something to improve the way he uses the autocue/teleprompter, and stop looking at one screen for too long before looking towards the other one.

However, having watched his speech today, I realise that I've probably been wrong all along and that it's time to revise my opinion (and to apologise for my obsessive twittering on the subject).
This isn't because he'd resolved the problem, though it wasn't quite as noticeable as usual, but because, on closer examination, I'm pretty sure that he wasn't looking at any screens at all. In other words, he was was almost certainly relying on the paper script in front of him, had probably more or less memorised the whole thing in advance and only needed occasional glances down to keep himself on track.

If you watch the clip below, you'll not only see his eyes looking down at the lectern, but, when the camera pulls back to show us a wider angle, you won't see any sign at all of any autocue screens on poles (that are normally all too clearly visible). This was also true in some of the shots from behind Mr Cameron during the speech (examples of which I'll post as soon as I have them available).

What this suggests is that, like many speakers (including Margaret Thatcher and, I confess, myself), he suffers from what I've referred to in my books as 'skewed eye contact' - i.e. a natural and unconscious tendency to look at one side of the audience for far longer than at the other - an obvious disadvantage of which is that it can easily make a lot of people feel as though they're being left out.

I suppose that the reason for my mistake is that we've become so used to politicians using teleprompters that we assume they all do it, and that Mr Cameron's 'naturally' skewed eye contact gave the impression that he was doing it too.

However, although I may have been wrong about autocue screens being the cause of the problem, I still think that that he does have a problem that would be easy enough to solve - and that spreading his gaze more frequently in different directions would help him to become an even more effective orator than he already is.


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