31 March 2009

BLOG INDEX: Sept 2008-March 2009

This is a list of everything posted since the Blog started in September 2008.

It's updated at the end of each month, and you can access direct links to each one by clicking on the title above or HERE.

MARCH 2009
• Gordon Brown is finding the Jacqui Smith expenses story more ‘delicate’ than he says
• ‘The Lost Art of Oratory’ by a BBC executive who helped to lose it in the first place
• Another Tory speech that marked the beginning of the end for a prime minister
• Rhetorical techniques and imagery in Hannan’s attack on Gordon Brown – edited highlights
• Did the media ignore Hannan because they think speeches are ‘bad television’?
• Does Daniel Hannan’s attack on Brown tell us what makes a speech memorable?
• UK media slowly wakes up to Daniel Hannan’s speech
• Media Coverage of Daniel Hannan’s attack on Gordon Brown
• It’s time Brown stopped recycling other people’s lines
• Daniel Hannan v. Gordon Brown at the European Parliament
• Jargon and gobbledygook comedy sketch
• Check the fixtures and fittings before you speak
• Why haven't the Lib Dems learnt from Obama’s use of the internet?
• If Bill Gates doesn’t read bullet points from PowerPoint slides ...
• An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation?
• ‘From Stalin to Mr Bean’: putting two parts of a contrast in the right order
• How to improve impact by sequence, repetition and a rhetorical technique
• Brown’s ‘poetry’ heads up news of his speech to Congress
• Unexpected poetry in Gordon Brown's speech to the US Congress
• The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation
• Gordon Brown’s model example of how to express condolences

February 2009
• The day Barack Obama discovered his powers of oratory and rhetoric
• How to make reading a slide sound interesting
• PowerPoint style presentation continues to dominate BBC News – courtesy Robert Peston (again)
• The 'magic' of Oscar acceptance speeches
• Does Mrs Clinton really know someone everywhere she goes?
• Personality cult as an antidote to tribalism?
• Kenya holiday reading

JANUARY 2009
• Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose is the fairest democracy of all ?
• Rhetoric and imagery in President Obama’s inauguration speech
• The good news from the House of Lords
• Memorable lines in President Obama's inaugural speech?
• The great camcorder con-trick
• Obama’s inauguration rhetoric won approval for some uncomfortable messages
• Rhetoric and applause in Obama’s inaugural speech as a measure of what the audience liked best
• A line I don't want to hear in today's speech by President Obama
• The enduring challenge and importance of funeral orations
• Has talking the economy down become a dangerous self-fulfilling prophesy?
• Kate Winslet ignores Paul Hogan’s advice to award winners
• Slidomania epidemic contaminates another BBC channel
• How would Obama's rhetoric and oratory sound from a London back street?
• Clinton, Palin and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher
• Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman: Part III. The education of a female orator
• Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman: Part II. ‘ The Iron Lady’
• Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman: Part I. Cultural and vocal challenges
• “May we bring hope” – 30 years since Margaret Thatcher took office as Prime Minister

DECEMBER 2008
• Ready made words for Mr Obama from a previous president’s inaugural speech
• Neutrality in the Queen’s Christmas speech
• What did Santa say before “Ho, ho ho!”
• You don’t have to be Barack Obama to use rhetoric and imagery
• High-risk practical joke for an office Christmas party speech
• End of year poll on PowerPoint presentations
• Obama’s rhetoric renews UK media interest in the ‘lost art’ of oratory
• Gordon’s gaffe explained
• The Office Christmas Party Speech: roads to failure and success
• The Queen's Speech, 2008
• Rhetoric, oratory and Barack Obama's 'The Speech', 2004
• "There's nothing wrong with PowerPoint - until there's an audience"
• What’s in a place name?

NOVEMBER 2008
• Content-free sermon by Alan Bennett
• 50 years since Peter Sellers recorded his memorable political speech
• Talking the economy up
• Talking the economy down
• Why lists of three: mystery, magic or reason?
• Tom Peters: High on rhetoric but low on content?
• Bobby Kennedy nearly got it right about Obama
• ‘Reliable sources' on where Obama’s 'Yes we can' came from
• Will there be any ‘rhetorical denial’ from the Obama camp?
• The Queen’s Speech: an exception that proves the ruler
• Rhetoric & imagery in Obama's victory speech
• Not Clinton, not McCain but Obama
• How the BBC handled one complaint about Ross

OCTOBER 2008:
• Another BBC News Slideshow
• Don't put the clocks back
• BBC Television News: produced for or by morons?
• Experience and inexperience in presidential campaigns
• Presidential debates – tedious television but better than commercials
• A secret of eternal youth?
• PowerPoint Peston
• Hair today, win tomorrow: baldness and charisma
• Pesky Peston?
• ConVincing Cable
• 'Mature, grown-up and statesmanlike' at the lectern

SEPTEMBER 2008:
• Cameron takes to the lectern in a crisis
• Objects as visual aids
• Powerpoint comes to church
• Mediated speeches -- whom do we really want to hear?
• Wisdom of forethought?
• Time for Cameron to surf applause?
• Did Gordon Brown take my advice?
• Eternity, eternity and eternity
• More tips for Gordon Brown
• Tips for Gordon Brown's conference speech

Gordon Brown is finding the Jacqui Smith expenses story more ‘delicate’ than he says


Long ago, I heard one of the founders of conversation analysis (and I can’t remember whether it was Emanuel Schegloff or Gail Jefferson) talking about ‘pre-delicate hitches’ – a rather cumbersome piece of jargon for referring to a fairly common occurrence in conversation.

‘Hitches’ are things like ‘uh-’ and ‘um-, restarts of a word, or slight pauses, and the observation was that these are regularly found at those points in a conversation where the speaker is leading towards a word or a topic that they know is rather ‘delicate’ (e.g. a swear word, obscenity or potentially controversial news, gossip, etc.).

The general argument was that such ‘hitches’ are used to give advance notice that we’re about to say something that we know is rather ‘delicate’ – and know that others might find ‘delicate’ too.

I was therefore fascinated to notice that there were at least ten ‘pre-delicate hitches’ in the first four sentences of Gordon Brown’s comments about the scandal of the Home Secretary’s expenses claim for a blue movie watched by her husband – which you can check out by following the transcript below (hitches in bold) while watching the video HERE.

(P.S. Since posting this, I've realised that you can't actually read the transcript at the same time as watching the video, so keen anoraks will have to copy it on to another file and/or print it out).

BROWN:

"This is- this is very much a-a personal matter (pause) uh- for- for Jacqui.
"She’s made her uh- apology.
"Her husband has made it uh- clear that he is- he is apologised `(sic).
"Uh I-I think that the best thing is that Jacqui Smith gets- gets on with her work as- which is what she wants to do."

What these hitches suggest is that Mr Brown is finding the whole episode much more delicate than he’s letting on in the words that he actually uses.

(If you found this of any interest, you might also like to inspect my explanation of his claim to 'have saved the world' gaffe in December).

30 March 2009

‘The Lost Art of Oratory’ by a BBC executive who helped to lose it in the first place

Well, well, well – after decades of showing fewer and fewer speeches (and shorter and shorther extracts from the few that ever do get shown) on television, the BBC is now trailing a programme entitled ‘Yes We Can: The Lost Art of Oratory’ next Sunday night, presented by none other than Alan Yentob – who, in his former roles as controller of BBC 1 and Director of Programmes, was one of the few people who could actually have done something to prevent the ‘Art of Oratory’ from being more or less lost from our television screens in the first place

Having posted a piece entitled ‘Obama's rhetoric renews UK media interest in the 'lost art' of oratory’ back in December, I suppose I should be gratified to see my point being endorsed by the BBC.

But it does seem rather ironic that the programme is being put out on the same channel (BBC 2) that broadcast a half an hour programme of speeches every night during the 1979 election, but where you’ll never see any now – unless they feel it’s time for a bit of speculation about the declining importance of oratory in British politics, helped along the way by authoritative experts like Bob Geldof and Germaine Greer.

Or maybe it’s just their way of trying to justify part of the huge amount of licence payers’ money spent on sending Mr Yentob and the swarms of other BBC employees to Washingon for inauguration day.

Having just heard him plugging the programme on BBC Radio 4’s Start the Week, I’m not expecting much in the way of news or insight into the subject. But it should be worth recording in case they play any clips that I don't already have in my collection.

(See also Did the media ignore Hannan because they think speeches are 'bad television'? and Mediated speeches - whom do we really want to hear?)

29 March 2009

Another Tory speech that marked the beginning of the end for a prime minister

There was an interesting comment the other day on one of my postings about Daniel Hannan's speech by Charles Crawford, a former speechwriter to Sir Geoffrey Howe. It reminded me of another Tory speech that marked the beginning of the end of a prime minister -- and also met the right chord/right audience/right place/right time test for 'memorability'.

His resignation speech to the House of Commons included a fine example of sporting imagery (a cricketing simile) to describe what it had been like working for Mrs Thatcher (see video below).

"It's rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease, only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain."

The speech ended with a fairly explicit invitation to other discontented colleagues to stand against her for the leadership, and it wasn’t long before she was gone:

"The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long."

Mr Crawford says he didn't write the speech, but I wonder if he or anyone else could shed any light on a rumour that was circulating at the time, namely that Sir Geoffrey's wife had had a major hand in writing it.

video

27 March 2009

Rhetorical techniques and imagery in Hannan’s attack on Brown – edited highlights

As promised the other day, here are some notes on the rhetorical highlights of Daniel Hannan’s attack on Gordon Brown.

At its simplest, the more use a speaker makes of the main rhetorical techniques and imagery to get key messages across, the more likely it is that a speech will achieve high audience ratings (for more detail on these and how to use them, see any of the books listed on the left).

Given the impact of this particular speech, it’s therefore hardly surprising to see just how frequently he uses them – at a rate that comes close to the frequency to be found in some of Barack Obama's speeches (on which, see earlier postings on his victory speech and inaugural address).

Edited footage of the following five highlights can be seen below.

1. THE OPENING

Attention grabbing opening with a Puzzle (that sounds as it though it could be a compliment) followed by a solution packaged as a contrast (that turns out to be an insult/attack):

PUZZLE:
Prime Minister, I see you’ve already mastered the essential craft of the European politician,

SOLUTION:
(A) namely the ability to say one thing in this chamber
(B) and a very different thing to your home electorate.

2. ATTACK PACKAGED AS A ‘YOU/OUR ‘ CONTRAST:

The truth, Prime Minister, is that you have run out of our money.

3. EXTENDED METAPHOR INTRODUCED BY TWO CONTRASTS:

(A) It is true that we are all sailing together into the squalls.
(B) But not every vessel in the convoy is in the same dilapidated condition.

(A) Other ships used the good years to caulk their hulls and clear their rigging; in other words – to pay off debt.
(B) But you used the good years to raise borrowing yet further.

As a consequence, under your captaincy, our hull is pressed deep into the water line under the accumulated weight of your debt.

4. INSULT/ATTACK PACKAGED AS A‘NOT (A) BUT’ (B) CONTRAST WITH ALLITERATION:

(A) Now, it’s not that you’re not apologising; like everyone else I have long accepted that you’re pathologically incapable of accepting responsibility for these things.

(B) It’s that you’re carrying on, wilfully worsening our situation, wantonly spending what little we have left.

5. CONTRASTS FOLLOWED BY SIMILE, FOUR 3 PART LISTS (WITH REPETITION) AND A CONCLUDING PUZZLE-SOLUTION:

(A) Prime Minister you cannot go on forever squeezing the productive bit of the economy
(B) in order to fund an unprecedented engorging of the unproductive bit. [applause]

(A) You cannot spend your way out of recession
(B) or borrow your way out of debt.

And when you repeat, in that wooden and perfunctory way, that our situation is better than others, that we’re well placed to weather the storm, I have to tell you, you sound like a Brezhnev-era Apparatchik giving the party line.

(1) You know,
(2) and we know,
(3) and you know that we know that it’s nonsense.

Everyone knows that Britain is worse off than any other country to go into these hard times.

(1) The IMF has said so.
(2) The European Commission has said so.
(3) The markets have said so, which is why our currency has devalued by 30% – and soon the voters, too, will get their chance to say so.

And soon the voters too will get their chance to say so.

PUZZLE: They can see what the markets have already seen:
SOLUTION: that you are the devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government.

video

Did the media ignore Hannan because they think speeches are 'bad television'?

A knock-on effect of Daniel Hannan’s speech is that this blog has experienced a ten times increase in the number of hits since starting to post comments on it a couple of days ago.

New visitors are very welcome and, as many of you are presumably interested in political speeches and media coverage of them, you might be interested in some earlier postings on the subject. The easiest way to inspect the full menu and access them is from the relevant page on my main website HERE.

One thing I’ve been concerned about for years may help to explain why the mainstream British media were so late (and grudging) in picking up on the story – namely that there seems to be a tacit conspiracy or agreement between the British media and politicians that speeches don’t make good television.

As a result, sterile and evasive interviews between top interviewers and top politicians have replaced extracts from speeches as the main form of political communication. And, if they show any speeches at all, you're more likely to see the speaker in the background while the reporter (in the foreground, of course) tells us what the politician is saying.

If you’re interested in more on this, you might like to have a look at two earlier postings:

Mediated speeches: whom do we really want to hear?
Obama’s rhetoric renews UK media interest in the ‘lost art’ of oratory

26 March 2009

Does Daniel Hannan’s attack on Brown tell us what makes a speech memorable?

When I first started doing research into political speeches in the early 1980s, I concentrated on sequences that prompted applause – as it seemed a fairly obvious and unequivocal barometer for measuring audience approval. What attracted most attention about the results was the observation that most bursts of applause are triggered by a small number of simple rhetorical techniques (Our Masters’ Voices: the Language and Body Language of Politics, 1984).

But the book also included some observations about the content of the messages that get applauded in political speeches, the main finding being that 84% of the bursts of applause occurred after a boastful statement about the speaker’s own party or an insult/attack on an opposing party – or some combination of the two (OMV, p. 45).

When I was actively involved with the Liberal Democrats during the Ashdown years, we had some interesting arguments, thanks to their rather pious tradition of trying to stand aside from ‘Yah-boo’ politics – which would make it sound inconsistent if they were to use too much in the way of knocking copy.

But my point was (and still is) that to abstain from the insult/attack option means signing up to a self-denying ordinance that deprives you of one of the main techniques for generating audience approval - and the success of Vince Cable's suggestion that Gordon Brown had changed from Stalin to Mr Bean suggests that there is at least one member of the current leadership team willing to deploy an insult now and then.

So the first thing that struck me about Daniel Hannan’s speech was that almost every sentence conveyed an insult or attack – not just directed at Labour in general, but highly personalised ones aimed at the leader of the Labour Party in particular.

Add to this the fact that it was in front of MEPs in Strasbourg and in the presence of Mr Brown, a distinguished guest who had just made a speech, and the context becomes comparable with that of a cheeky schoolboy standing up at speech day and telling the headmaster exactly what he and others thought of him in full view of all the other pupils, teachers and parents.

If Mr Hannon’s repetitive use of the insult/attack option, packaged with some neat rhetoric and appropriate imagery (on which, see HERE), may have set the speech up to attract more attention than usual, it’s obviously not the only reason for its success.

Since writing Our Masters’ Voices, I’ve been asked many times: what makes a truly memorable speech? However intellectually and financially rewarding it would be to have a definitive answer, I can't claim to have got there yet. But I do have the beginnings of a theory.

Effective use of rhetoric and imagery to package the key messages is important, but it doesn’t really provide anything like a compete answer, not least because the same techniques are to be found in all famous speeches.

So I started trying to get together sample of speeches that qualified as such to see if they had anything in common. After asking scores of people which speeches they considered ‘memorable’, what surprised me was the frequency with which they mentioned the same four speeches (remember that I was doing this 25 years ago):

Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of change’ in the South African parliament in 1960
John F Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ in front of the Berlin wall in 1963
Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ in front of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963
Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ in Birmingham, 1968

So what, if anything, did these particular speeches have in common that made them stand out as more memorable than most?

The best I’ve been able to come up with is that, in each case, the speaker managed to hit the jackpot by saying something that struck just the right chord with just the right audience in just the right place at just the right moment in history – which means that it’s more or less impossible to predict ‘memorability’ with any certainty in advance of any particular speech - though I did wonder whether this was what Barack Obama had in mind when he tried unsuccessfully to speak at the Brandenburg Gate when visiting Berlin last year – given the previous Berlin successes of Kennedy in 1961 and Ronald Reagan’s ‘Tear down this wall’ in 1987.

Much the same can be said of three more recent specimens of the commonest answers to the same question about memorable speeches:

Ronald Reagan’s ‘Challenger’ speech after the shuttle disaster in 1986
Tony Blair’s ‘People’s Princess’ speech on the death of Princess Diana in 1997
Lord Spencer’s eulogy at the funeral of Princess Diana (his sister) in 1997

At this point, I should make it clear that I am not suggesting that Daniel Hannan’s speech in Strasbourg the other day will ever get anywhere close to the long-term ‘memorability’ of the above examples. But I do think that, when it comes to explaining its sudden succes, the same factors -- right chord/right audience/right place/right time – may help to answer the question appearing on blogs and in the media, namely why has it taken off in the way that it has?

Right chord: challenging one of the favoured solutions to the current economic crisis
Right audience: including a prime minister and people around the world who are also unconvinced by such solutions
Right place: in the European Parliament where there is disagreement between countries about the alternative solutions
Right Time: Just before the G20 meeting about agreeing a global solution to the economic crisis

What brought me back to this question after so many years was reading through some of the 5,573 comments (at the time of writing) about the speech on YouTube.

You don’t have to read many of them to see that the right chord, the right audience, the right place and/or the right time are recurring themes from those who liked the speech well enough to want to put their own comments on the record.

UK media slowly wakes up to Daniel Hannan's speech

Thanks to Google Alerts, I can report that some British newspapers have finally started to post news about Daniel Hannen's speech on their websites (mostly in their blog sections). Click on titles below to inspect what they're saying:

12.34 p.m. THE TIMES:
Daniel Hannan - the Americans just love him
POSTED BY TIMES ONLINE NEWSDESK ON MARCH 26, 2009 AT 12:34 PM

14.28: p.m. THE GUARDIAN
Why has Daniel Hannan become an internet sensation?
Posted by Andrew Sparrow Thursday 26 March 2009 14.28 GMT

3.32 p.m. DAILY MAIL
Tory MEP ambushes Brown, branding his leadership 'devalued'... then becomes surprise internet hit
By NICOLA BODEN
Last updated at 3:32 PM on 26th March 2009

Media coverage of Daniel Hannan's attack on Gordon Brown in Strasbourg


Yesterday, when I posted news of Daniel Hannan’s speech to the European Parliament, it had already attracted 22,000 viewings and 208 comments on YouTube in less than 24 hours. The latest score at the time of writing has shot up to 660,691 viewings and 4,560 comments.

Yet there’s still been no mention of it on any BBC news programme or on its website. Nor will you be able to find any reference to it on the websites of ITN, Sky News or Channel 4 News.

If you search through the websites of leading British newspapers, you’ll find that the only one with any reference to the speech happens to be the one for which Mr Hannan writes and on which he has a blog, namely The Daily Telegraph.

But the US media has been rather less neglectful in their coverage of this story, and anyone interested in hearing more about the speech can see an extended interview with the MEP on the Fox News website HERE.

And you can watch this space for some comments on the rhetorical highlights within the next day or two.

25 March 2009

It's time Gordon Brown stopped recycling other people's lines

I’ve warned Gordon Brown and his speechwriters before (HERE) that it’s not a good idea to lift lines from other people’s speeches. This was prompted by one of the lines from a speech he made in July last year:

“There’s nothing bad about Britain that cannot be corrected by what’s good about Britain …”

This bore an uncanny resemblance to something Bill Clinton had said in his inaugural address in January 1993:

“There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

Then, when Brown spoke to the US Congress three weeks ago, he came up with:

“There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe.”

Not surprisingly, this got some commentators wondering if his scriptwriters had now started borrowing from the collected works of Barack Obama, whose address at the 2004 Democratic Convention had included the folowing:

“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.”

Obama subsequently recycled a similar version in other speeches, including the one in Chicago after he had won the election:

“We have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states. We are and always will be the United States of America”

Recycling your own material may be acceptable, but there is nothing whatsoever to be gained from recycling material that sounds as though it’s been lifted from someone else – other than the kind electoral disaster Joe Biden experienced when his unattributed use of lines from a Neil Kinnock speech brought his otherwise promising 1987 campaign for the Democratic nomination to an abrupt end.

But Brown and his speechwriters still don’t seem to get it. So, here we are, hardly three weeks since he told the US Congress:

“There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe”

we hear him telling the European Parliament:

“There is no old Europe, no new Europe, no east or west Europe. There is only one Europe – our home Europe.”

Pass the sick bag please ...

Daniel Hannan v. Gordon Brown at the European Parliament













Gordon Brown’s speech to the European Parliament yesterday got fairly wide media coverage, but there’s been little or no mention of a powerful response to it by Daniel Hannan, a Tory MEP for South East England.

Less than 24 hours later, Hannan’s speech has had 22,106 viewings on YouTube and has attracted 208 (mostly favourable) comments.* A link to the speech has also already appeared on the page about him on Wikipedia

If evidence were needed that it’s worth posting speeches on YouTube, as I recently suggested the LibDems should be doing (HERE), then this is surely it.

It’s also encouraging to see that at least one young British politician is capable of crafting and delivering an impressive 3 minute speech - and raises the question of why we don't get to see more of the European Parliament on TV.

* UPDATE 4 HOURS LATER: these scores have now gone up to 36,748 viewings and 833 comments.

* UPDATE 10 HOURS LATER: these scores have now gone up to 167,779 viewings and 1,660 comments.

* UPDATE 14 HOURS LATER: these scores have now gone up to 316,779 viewings and 2,787 comments.

* UPDATE 24 HOURS LATER: these scores have now gone up to 660,691 viewings and 4,560 comments.

19 March 2009

Jargon and gobbledygook comedy sketch


Anyone who runs courses on presentation and communication skills will be all too familiar with the problem of jargon and gobbledygook that was highlighted by yesterday’s announcement that the Local Government Association has published a list of 100 words that it wants to see banned (for news story see here and, for the complete list, see here).

Until last year, I’d never tried my hand at writing anything other than non-fiction, but my wife and I had been finding it difficult to find a double act on the internet that we could perform at an annual event in our village hall – previous years efforts had included a politically correct version of a conversation between Nelson and Hardy before the battle of Trafalgar and one about gardening between God and St Francis of Assisi.

So we started playing around with jargon and gobbledygook, both managerial and youth-speak, and came up with a visit to a clinic by a young woman who was having trouble making herself understood.

The most difficult part was finding a suitable way of bringing it to an end, but the Archbishop of Canterbury came to our rescue with his widely publicised lecture about Sharia law that had happened about a week earlier.

Sad though I may be, I had read and watched the whole speech and had been appalled by the incomprehensibility of his language, and, in particular, by the discovery that one of his sentences was made up of 149 words (i.e. more than nine times longer than the 16 word average sentence length in effective speeches).

High risk though it may have been, I decided to read the whole sentence out and, in Basil Fawlty's immortal words after mentioning the war to the German guests, I think I got away with it.

Anyone wanting to use the following is welcome to do so, but will probably need to modify the ending with a more topical role model than the Archbishop of Canterbury – Robert Peston, perhaps?


THE COMMUNICATION CLINIC
by Max & Joey Atkinson, 2008



(CONSULTANT RINGS BELL)

Next please.

(ENTER CLIENT CHEWING GUM, MUTTERING TO SOMEONE ON MOBILE PHONE)

Ah – hello Miss Fitt.

Hi

How are you today?

I’m good – and yourself?

Very well thanks. And thank you for filling in our psychometric inter-cognitive transactional protocol – from which it looks as though you may be having problems making yourself understood.

You’re so not wrong there.

And that it may be interfering with your social life.

Tell me about it.

No - you’re the one who’s supposed to be telling me about it.

Well at this particular moment in time, I want to address the issue ahead of it getting any worse going forward.

So how often would you say people are having trouble understanding you?

Ballpark figure?

Yes.

24/7.

OK - and what’s made you decide to do something about it?

Well like because I so want to play on a level playing field, and like sing from the same hymn sheet as everyone else.

Hmm – and how does it actually feel when someone doesn’t understand what you’re saying?

Well, like, I mean to say, and to be quite honest with you, it’s literally surreal – and whenever it happens I think: “don’t go there” -- End of.

But you are still going there, aren’t you?

Yeah, but – like - if you’ll just bear with me, the bottom line is that it’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Mm huh.

And, to be quite honest with you I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been there, done that and got the T shirt.

Hmm.

I mean how weird is that?

And how are you coping with it?

Well, it’s like doing my head in.

Have you tried to do anything about the problem before coming here today?

I’ve tried doing some blue sky thinking, but it – like - wasn’t actually rocket science -- and I just so couldn’t get my head round it.

Anything else?

I’ve had a go at thinking outside the box and running a few flags up the flagpole to see if anyone salutes.

And did they?

No, I never seem to get past first base, because in actual fact and to be perfectly honest with you, someone keeps moving the goal posts.

Have you ever thought about moving the goal posts yourself?

You what?

Ever thought of moving the goal posts your self?

No, cos I’m not empowered and don’t have ownership of them.

Ahhh, you see this is almost certainly why you’re finding things so difficult -- because really good communicators – the really effective ones -- like the Archbishop of Canterbury, aren’t afraid to own the goal posts and move them wherever they like. Your problem is that you speak in shorthand, whereas he speaks in long hand.

Wicked.

The point is, Miss Fitt, that if you’re going to get through to people, you need to start using the likes of him as a role model, and that means making your sentences more like this one, which I’ll read you from the text of the lecture he gave last week.

Cool.

“The rule of law is thus not the enshrining of priority for the universal/abstract dimension of social existence but the establishing of a space accessible to everyone

(MISS FITT STARTS TEXTING ON MOBILE PHONE)

"in which it is possible to affirm and defend a commitment to human dignity as such, independent of membership in any specific human community or tradition, so that when specific communities or traditions are in danger of claiming finality for their own boundaries of practice and understanding, they are reminded that they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity...

(CONSULTANT NOTICES MISS FITT ISN’T LISTENING AND COUGHS LOUDLY TO GET HER ATTENTION BACK)

"… they are reminded that they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity and that the only way of doing this is to acknowledge the category of 'human dignity as such', a non-negotiable assumption that each agent (with his or her historical and social affiliations)

(MISS FITT YAWNS)

"could be expected to have a voice in the shaping of some common project for the well-being and order of a human group.”

(PAUSE)

So there you are Miss Fitt -- see what I mean?

(LONG PAUSE – MISS FITT LOOKS BAFFLED)

Well, I hear what you say.

And?

Whatever!

Whatever what?

I think he’s completely out of order.

18 March 2009

Check the fixtures and fittings before you speak

Prince William recently gave a speech that, not surprisingly, received national media coverage. After all, here was a very famous person who had lost his mother at a young age and in tragic circumstances becoming patron of the Child Bereavement Charity, which helps children and families who have lost a parent.

It must have been difficult for him not to accept their invitation – and even more difficult to have to make a speech in which he could hardly not mention his mother, the late Princess Diana.

If that wasn’t going to be tough enough, he then had to speak without a lectern and without a stand for the microphone, even though the organizers must surely have known that it was going to be broadcast to a mass television audience.

The result was that the viewers saw a nervous young man standing at the bottom of a staircase with sheets of paper in one hand and a microphone in the other (see below).

Not surprisingly, it could hardly be said to be a model example of how to deliver a speech. However difficult Prince William was going to find it speaking about something so close to his heart, it would have been a little bit easier if he (or the organizers) had made sure that clutching paper and a microphone would not be necessary parts of the performance.

The very obvious general point is that, whenever speakers can, they should always check out – in advance – the room, layout, fixtures, fittings and equipment. Otherwise you risk falling foul of the inadequate arrangements made by your hosts.


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14 March 2009

Why haven't the Lib Dems learnt from Obama’s use of the internet?


The importance of the internet, and especially YouTube, in Barack Obama’s successful campaign in coming from nowhere to the presidency has been widely recognized (e.g. see here, or just type 'Obama's use of the internet' into Google).

Shortly after the foundation of the Liberal Democrats 21 years ago, they too were pretty much nowhere - it doesn't get much worse than 4% in the polls and 4th, after the Green Party in the Euro elections.

Then, as now, it was always difficult for the third party to get anything like parity in media coverage with the other two parties. But then there was no internet, whereas now there is.

Yet here we are, a whole week since the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Harrogate came to an end, and not a single speech from the leader, or anyone else at the conference, has appeared on YouTube. All there is to be seen of it is an amateurish looking video, complete with some awful background library music, that was apparently ‘shown … to introduce party leader Nick Clegg’s keynote speech’ (see here).

But you can't actually watch his keynote speech on YouTube, nor the speech by Vince Cable or anyone else who spoke at the conference.

Having worked with Paddy Ashdown in the early days of trying to get the new party off the ground, I know that we’d have given our eye teeth to have had access to something like YouTube back in 1988 (especially as there were hardly enough funds to pay for the first party political broadcast).

In December last year, there were press announcements that the LibDems had appointed a new ‘Director of Policy & Communications’ - which raises the questions of what he and his colleagues have been doing since then, and why they haven’t learnt the most obvious, simplest and cheapest lesson from the Obama campaign - i.e. about how to make the most of the internet.

11 March 2009

If Bill Gates doesn't read bullet points from PowerPoint slides ...


I’ve just been watching a talk by Bill Gates on How I'm trying to change the world now - the full version of which can be seen HERE.

Unfortunately, his plans for changing the world don't seem to extend to instructing Microsoft to withdraw, or at least radically overhaul, their market-leading presentation software.

Apart from his subject matter (defeating malaria and improving the quality of teaching), there were three other things about his presentation that struck me as interesting.

1. Bill Gates knows better than to read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
Although he showed a few slides (mainly pictures, maps and graphs), he did not use any that consisted of long lists of bullet points, and therefore didn’t have to keep turning round and reading from them – like the vast majority of PowerPoint users I’ve seen over the years.

If the founder of Microsoft has no use for the opening templates PowerPoint offers to its users (i.e. headings and lists), why doesn't he have any qualms about allowing his company to make millions of dollars from giving millions of people the false impression that listing bullet points is a sure-fire route to making an effective presentation?

2. Bill Gates knows that some technologies can help teachers but not that others can hinder them
Although he singles out video and DVD as technologies that can help to improve the quality of teaching, he seems completely unaware that other technologies, (e.g. PowerPoint, electronic whiteboards, etc.) might be reducing the quality of teaching.

Again, isn’t it time he woke up to the fact that PowerPoint may have led thousands of teachers and lecturers down a blind alley that's leaving millions of students a year in a state of boredom and/or confusion?

3. Bill Gates knows that objects can be used as effective visual aids
Apart from the applause for his announcement that he was going to give everyone in the audience a free copy of a book, the most positive response came when he took the lid off a jar and pretended to release mosquitoes into the auditorium (see below).

This may be about as far away from relying on PowerPoint slides as you can get, but is a simple and effective form of visual aid (for more on which, see HERE where you can watch examples of the Archbishop of York and Barack Obama doing something similar).

If only Microsoft would preach what its founder practises, there might be a chance of saving the world from the ever-spreading epidemic of death by PowerPoint.

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9 March 2009

An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation?


In December, I reported on a meeting my wife had been to, at which there were some unscheduled PowerPoint presentations – see There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint until there’s an audience

Yesterday, I made the mistake of going with her to another meeting of the same people at the same place.

You might think that a meeting of voluntary part-time stewards in a medieval bishop’s palace would be an unlikely venue for PowerPoint presentations, let alone that you’d see anything new in the way this latter-day scourge of audiences can be used. But you’d be wrong on both counts.

Our speaker’s imaginative innovation was not just to stand directly in front of the screen, but in front of the laptop and the projector as well – with her back to all the gadgets on which her presentation depended, as well as to all the people sitting on the front two or three rows.

This had two obvious consequences. One was that it was made it even more difficult than usual for her to find out what to say next (other than the fluent “Ers” and “Ums” that prefaced almost every sentence), as she had to turn round both to see the screens and to press the button on the laptop;

The other was that that her position a few metres in front of the middle of the screen prevented large swathes of the audience from seeing what was on the screen (even if they had wanted to).

Luckily for them and unluckily for everyone else, they weren’t missing much, as there was nothing to look other than lists of items in a multi-million pound plan for developing tourism at the palace.

Whether or not it counts as another innovation, our presenter’s choice of clothing – jeans with a top that exposed her rather unsightly naval – at least raised questions in our minds: was this a deliberate bid to look as different as possible from this smartly turned out late-middle aged, middle-class audience? Or was it just casual weekend attire that was being worn to remind us that she, unlike us, was having to work on a Sunday?

If nothing else, we learnt that it has yet to occur to anyone at the palace that it might be worth spending a small fraction of the millions of pounds in their budget on some presentation skills training for development officers (or an even smaller fraction on a copy of one of my books).

In any case, twenty minutes of this dire performance was more than enough to convince us that we were in for a repeat of the event reported on in December and that our time would be better spent by leaving in search of the cup of tea that had failed to materialise before the meeting started.

8 March 2009

‘From Stalin to Mr Bean’: putting two parts of a contrast in the most effective order

In case anyone thinks that the last posting was intended as a criticism of Vince Cable’s rhetorical skill, I haven't forgotten that his most famous line came when, as acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, he produced a devastating contrast at Question Time in the House of Commons (see below).

If he had said that Mr Brown ‘had become more like Mr Bean than Stalin’, the contrast between a bumbling fool and an autocratic dictator would still have been there and would no doubt have raised a laugh or two.

But on that occasion, he got the order of the two parts of the contrast the right way round, and not only had a tremendous impact there and then, but also did his own longer term reputation no harm at all.

The line also inspired a purely visual representation of his point on you YouTube that can be seen HERE.

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How to improve impact by sequence, repetition and a rhetorical technique

In Vince Cable’s speech at the spring conference of the Liberal Democrats in Harrogate a couple of days ago, there was a sequence that would have been more effective had he (or his speechwriter) reversed the order in which he mentioned the two points, used repetition and packaged it as a contrast.

The line went as follows:

"Public companies should publish full pay package of all their highly paid employees [applause starts] as well as the directors."

You can see the sequence by looking here (1 minute, 25 seconds into the video), and will notice that the audience started applauding immediately after he said ‘employees’ and before he got to the key phrase ‘as well as the directors.'

As the current situation is that pay packages of directors already have to be published and Cable’s new/controversial point was that this should also apply to all highly paid employees, this would have worked better if the 'news' had come second rather than first.

It was also crying out to be turned into as a more explicit contrast between directors and other highly paid employees, with key words repeated, along the lines of the following:

"Public companies should not just publish the full pay package of their directors.
"They should publish the full pay package of all their highly paid employees."


Rhythmically and for adding emphasis, it would arguably have been improved further by making the second part of the contrast slightly longer, as in:

"They should publish the full pay package of each and every single one of their highly paid employees."

Either way, the applause would still have come immediately after the word ‘employees’, but it would have sounded more emphatic and there would have been no risk of the key point being drowned out by the applause.

6 March 2009

Brown’s ‘poetry’ heads up news of his speech to Congress

The previous post highlighted the frequency with which Gordon Brown used 'poetic' devices, like alliteration and imagery, in his speech to the US Congress earlier this week.

When it comes to getting key messages across, the advantage of using these and other rhetorical techniques is that they are they much more likely to be noticed (and perhaps even remembered) by the audience than if the same point had been made in a more bland or mundane way.

I first discussed how the way a message is packaged in a speech can affect its chances of reaching a wider audience in my book Our Masters' Voices (1984), using examples from speeches by Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and other leading politicians of the day.

Luckily for politicians, then and now, their audiences also include the media, whose reporters and editors react in much the same way as any other member of an audience, and are therefore likely to turn similar lines into prime-time soundbites.

A nice example of this came from the top of Sky News reports of Mr Brown’s speech to Congress, which opened by quoting his most-repeated alliterative phrase and one of his more powerful metaphors:

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4 March 2009

Unexpected poetry in Gordon Brown's speech to the US Congress


Readers of my books will know that they emphasise the importance of simple poetic elements, such as alliteration and imagery, in the tool-kit of effective public speakers. But such poetics have never been very evident in past speeches by Gordon Brown.

That’s why the most surprising thing about his speech to the US Congress earlier today was his use of at least 37 examples of alliteration and/or imagery (see below for more detail) – though his alliteration score was somewhat boosted by his repetitive use of the phrase in the first half of the alliterative title of the speech: With faith in the future, we can build tomorrow today.

For someone who has spent most of his life on the political platform, his sudden conversion to poetics raises the interesting question of whether there are new speechwriters at work in Downing Street – and, if so, who are they?

(P.S. Answer: Eight months later, I was fascinated to discover that there were indeed new speechwriters at work, but not in Downing Street. The PM apparently paid West Wing Writers, a Washington company run by former Democrat speechwriters, $7,000 to work on the speech - bringing the total paid to them since he became Chancellor of the Exchequer to more than $40,000).

Meanwhile, here are the examples spotted so far (alliteration in bold, imagery in italics):

GORDON BROWN:
F-f and b-b alliteration + imagery (building):
The very creation of America was a bold affirmation of faith in the future: a future you have not just believed in but built with your own hands.

Imagery (writing a book):
And on January 20th, you the American people began to write the latest chapter in the American story

B-b and s-s alliteration + topographical imagery (plains, streets, sands, beaches, bridges to denote battle fields in different wars):
And let me pay tribute to the soldiers, yours and ours, who again fight side by side in the plains of Afghanistan and the streets of Iraq, just as their forefathers fought side by side in the sands of Tunisia, on the beaches of Normandy and then on the bridges over the Rhine.

F-f alliteration:
And let it be said of our friendship - formed and forged over two tumultuous centuries, a friendship tested in war and strengthened in peace

F-f alliteration (echoing Churchill's use of same f-words):
And when banks have failed and markets have faltered …

P-p alliteration (+ contrast):
Not an alliance of convenience, but a partnership of purpose.

W-w, f-f and r-r alliteration (+contrast):
wealth must help more than the wealthy, good fortune must serve more than the fortunate and riches must enrich not just some of us but all.

W-w and d-d alliteration + imagery (contagion):
And we need to understand what went wrong in this crisis, that the very financial instruments that were designed to diversify risk across the banking system instead spread contagion across the globe.

C-c and f-f alliteration:
And this is not blind optimism or synthetic confidence to console people; it is the practical affirmation for our times of our faith in a better future.

F-f alliteration:
Every time we rebuild a school we demonstrate our faith in the future.

S-s and f-f alliteration:
.. every time we increase support to our scientists, we demonstrate our faith in the future.

F-f alliteration:
.. we conquer our fear of the future through our faith in the future.

M-m and p-p alliteration:
And I believe that you, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with the vision to protect and preserve our planet earth.

Weather imagery + c-c-c-c alliteration:
An economic hurricane has swept the world, creating a crisis of credit and of confidence.

T-t alliteration:
We are summoned not just to manage our times but to transform them.

W-w and d-d alliteration + imagery (contagion, again):
And we need to understand what went wrong in this crisis, that the very financial instruments that were designed to diversify risk across the banking system instead spread contagion across the globe.

T-t and s-s alliteration:
And America and Britain will succeed and lead if we tap into the talents of our people, unleash the genius of our scientists and set free the drive of our entrepreneurs.

C-c and f-f- alliteration:
And this is not blind optimism or synthetic confidence to console people; it is the practical affirmation for our times of our faith in a better future.

S-s and f-f alliteration:
.. every time we increase support to our scientists, we demonstrate our faith in the future.

C-c and f-f alliteration:
And so I say to this Congress and this country, something that runs deep in your character and is woven in your history, we conquer our fear of the future through our faith in the future.

F-f and p-p alliteration:
And it is this faith in the future that means we must commit to protecting the planet for generations that will come long after us.

Imagery (sowing seeds):
As the Greek proverb says, why does anybody plant the seeds of a tree whose shade they will never see?

M-m and p-p alliteration:
And I believe that you, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon, are also the nation with the vision to protect and preserve our planet earth.

Imagery (water and rippling):
No matter where it starts, an economic crisis does not stop at the water's edge. It ripples across the world.

P-p, f-f and t-t alliteration: and 'building' image:
Let us restore prosperity and protect this planet and, with faith in the future, let us together build tomorrow today.

2 March 2009

The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation


If you've never seen the PowerPoint version of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address, have a look here.

Gordon Brown's model example of how to express condolences

In earlier posts, I have commented on the importance of funeral orations and have also sometimes been critical of Gordon Brown's speech-making.

But, when it came to his offering condolences to the leader of the opposition on the death of his young son, Brown's short statement in the House of Commons last week was about as moving as these things can get - and was deservedly recognised as such in parts of the media that are not normally known for supporting the Prime Minister or the Labour Party.

For students of speech delivery, listening to a speech while reading the script can be a useful and revealing exercise, especially in learning how pauses can be used to express emotion, and you can check the transcript against Mr Brown's delivery here. You can do the same thing with Tony Blair's 'People's Princess' speech by clicking on the funeral orations link above.

BROWN: I know that the whole House will want to express our sorrow at the sad death this morning of Ivan Cameron at the age of just six years old, and our condolences go out to David and Samantha and to the Cameron family.

I know that in an all too brief young life, he brought joy to all those around him, and I know also that for all the days of his life, he was surrounded by his family's love.

Every child is precious and irreplaceable and the death of a child is an unbearable sorrow that no parent should ever have to endure.

Politics can sometimes divide us. But there is a common human bond that unites us in sympathy and compassion at times of trial and in support for each other at times of grief.

Sarah and I have sent our condolences to David and Samantha and I know that the whole country – our thoughts and our prayers – are with David, Samantha and their family today.


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