31 August 2009

BLOG INDEX: Sept 2008-August 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 post by clicking HERE or from the monthly lists on the left.

AUGUST 2009
• Obama on Kennedy got more applause than ‘normal’
• Tabloid tirade about Ted Kennedy from the Daily Mail
• PowerPoint on BBC Radio Scotland
• Joe Biden's moving tribute to Edward Kennedy
• The Banksy exhibition at Bristol Museum
• Einstein 'chalk & talk competition
• On the death of Edward Kennedy: 'the dream shall never die'
• What's 'news' about Gordon Brown not answering a question?
• Meheribian's moans about the myth
• Verdict after four weeks on Twitter
• The 'detective story' principle and puzzle-solution formats
• Showing what you mean: more from Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg
• A Nobel prize winner's views on slides versus 'chalk & talk'
• PowerPoint an the demise of Chalk & Talk: (3) Glimmers of hope
• PowerPoint an the demise of Chalk & Talk: (3) The lost art
• PowerPoint an the demise of Chalk & Talk: (1) The beginning of the end
• Body language news from Germany
• Dreaming of sex costs the nation £7.8 billion a year: the cost of boring presentations
• No smoke without ire
• Mrs Clinton's gem for interview collectors
• Observing England's cricket team in the face of defeat
• Guardian ahead of record?
• PowerPoint program on BBC Radio 4
• To be or not to be: a question for individuals or the state?
• BBC plug-a-book sho slot for aging new left author

JULY 2009
• Televised interviews and political communication
• Thatcher had more teleprompter troubles than Obama
• Jargon & gobbledygook refresher course
• How many numbers can you get into a minute?
• Will The Times be investigating Lord Rees-Mogg’s House of Lords expenses?
• Why is the MoD involved in planning Harry Patch’s funeral?
• Clarke has more to say about Brown than a few weeks ago
• Book plugging news
• Why doesn’t Amazon have a Spanish site?
• Media debilitated by swine flu news pandemic
• More standup comedy from Gordon Brown
• Standing ovation for Gordon Brown after anecdotes about Reagan, Cicero and Demosthenes
• Gordon Brown’s tough decisions and/or rehearsal for defeat
• White paint, red lights and fuel conservation
• Are you ahead of reading this post?
• Nudging in a more enlightened direction
• Moon rhetoric from Neil Armstrong, JFK & Werner von Braun
• Rhetoric revival?
• Book plugging
• How to stay awake during a repetitive ceremony
• BBC plug-a-book shows: how and why is so much offered to so few?
• Puzzle-Solution formats
• BBC rediscovers the 'Lost Art of Oratory' (again)
• Welcome to visitors from the BBC website
• D-Day memorabilia from Normandy to L√ľneburg
• More on body language & non-verbal behavior
• Guinea pigs
• Non-verbal communication
• A commentator likely to keep his job
• Non-verbal communication and height
• Welcome to visitors from the BBC website
• How to use video to study body language, verbal & non-verbal communication
• Is the 'Daily Telegraph' borrowing from blogs?
• More bad news for Gordon Brown
• Translation and fantasies of global domination
• Pious and expensive twaddle from strong man Straw
• There’s no such thing as a boring subject

JUNE 2009
• Monty Python, conversation and turn-taking

• Margaret Thatcher, body language and non-verbal communication

• NLP: No Linguistic Proof

• Body language and non-verbal communication video

• The 250 posts landmark
• Another body language & non-verbal communication cartoon

• 'Check against delivery'

• Body language, non-verbal communication and the myth about folded arms & defensiveness

• Another expenses dilemma

• The urgent need for EU directives on tea-making and lunch times

• Expenses?
• Imagery worthy of Obama in speech by the Governor of the Bank of England

• News on BBC radio is sometimes very good indeed

• Dudley Moore’s ‘Little Miss Muffet’ by Benjamin Britten

• BBC Television News slideshow Quiz

• No flies on Obama!

• ‘Sound-formed errors’ and humour

• BBC Television News informs, educates and entertains without slides!

• Politician answers a question: an exception that proves the rule
• Combining rhetoric and imagery to get your point across

• Did the MP's manure come by appointment?

• Interview techniques, politicians and how we judge them

• Banksy officially on show in Bristol

• Is the media no longer interested in what goes on in parliament?

• “Labour’s not for turning” – Peter Hain

• Presidential heights

• Why it suited Brown and Blair to take House of Lords reform no further

• Monty Python’s Election Night Special

• Euro-election coverage: was the BBC’s graphical overkill a violation of its charter?

• Lord Mandelspin strikes again

• Brown does a better job than Obama at the 65th anniversary of D-Day

• How Caroline Flint gave the game away about expecting a post in the cabinet

• Gordon Brown’s honesty about the death of New Labour

• D-Day 65th Anniversary (2): a reminder for Sarkozy and a challenge for Obama

• D-Day 65th Anniversary: (1) A British soldier returns to Gold Beach

• The end of free speech?

• Obama: Echoes of Berlin in Cairo

• Inspiring speech for polling day by Peter Sellers

• Pre-delicate hitches from the White House

• Body language and non-verbal communication

• 'Pre-delicate hitches' from Brown as he avoids answering a question about the Queen

• The end of the beginning

• How NOT to use PowerPoint

• Why has Gordon Brown become a regular on the Today programme?

MAY 2009
• Ronald Reagan's moving tribute on the 40th anniversary of D Day
• Driving a car can make you look younger than you really are
• Planning to say 'um' and 'uh'
• The ‘delicacy’ of Mrs Clinton’s ‘consequences’ for North Korea
• Clinton on North Korea: "There are consequences to such actions"
• Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Oscar acceptance speech
• Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor received five times more applause than ‘normal’
• Two tips for David Cameron after today’s speech on political change
• Bishops' attendance rates and allowances in the House of Lords
• Climbing out of the manure?
• Since when were Archbishops experts on democracy?
• Disputing the meaning of applause
• House of Lords expenses: Lord Rees-Mogg on gravy trains
• House of Lords expenses
• Goodbye from Mr Speaker
• What a fine Speaker!
• What a poor speaker!
• Sky Sports swindle
• Is the MPs' expenses scandal a hidden legacy of Thatcherism?
• Rhetoric wins applause for questioners on BBC Question Time
• Applause for Dimbleby's questions on BBC Question Time
• The liveliest Question Time ever?
• Why it's so easy for politicians not to answer interviewers' questions - and what should be done about it
• MPs expenses claims merely reflect British attitudes towards home ownership
• Well, well Wells!
• A prime minister who openly refused to answer an interviewer’s questions
• UK Speechwriters' Guild
• Gordon Brown's interview technique: the tip of a tedious iceberg
• Eye contact, public speaking and the case of President Zuma
• Chicago!
• Weatherization
• Notes from a large continent
• Are there more longer words in American English than in British English?
• Virgin mile-high poetry

APRIL 2009
• The Turnip Prize
• What’s the difference between a flu 'pandemic' and a flu 'epidemic'?
• Oxford professor models jeans
• A great source of videos for anyone interested in speaking and presentation
• A Tory leader's three evasive answers to the same question
• Jobsworthy News: Council official to walk along a path that doesn’t exist
• Was Kenneth in Wallanderland worth a BAFTA?
• A Labour leader with no interest in spin!
• David Cameron's attack on the Budget used some well-crafted rhetoric
• Gordon Brown seems to agree that Labour is ‘savage’ and ‘inhuman’?
• Poems for St George's Day
• Inspiring banking imagery for Budget day from Martin Luther King
• Budget speech boredom and television news tedium
• When the young Paddy Ashdown surprised himself by the power of his own rhetoric
• Obama’s rhetoric identifies with Martin Luther King but appeals to a wider audience
• A day when LibDems cheered at being told they all read a broadsheet newspaper
• Time for Gordon Brown to say "sorry" to savers
• Burnham, Kinnock and the danger of speaking in a sports stadium
• Derek Draper – another psycho-therapist who talks too much and listens too little?
• A smear that never was
• Derek Draper breaks a basic rule of conversation
• INTERLUDE
• Gordon Brown’s G20 address ignores an important tip from Winston Churchill
• Is there an open-mouthed school of acting?

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

Obama on Kennedy got more applause than 'normal'

I mentioned in an earlier post an observation, first reported in my book Our Masters’ Voices, about there being a standard or ‘normal’ burst of applause that, in many different settings and across several different cultures, lasts for about 8 seconds. Less than 7 seconds and it sounds feeble; more than 9 seconds and it sounds more enthusiastic than usual.

The most powerful piece of cross-cultural evidence came from a group of Iranian students who had collected some tapes of speeches by Ayotollah Khomeni after the Shah had been deposed. Applause had been banned as a 'decadent Western practice' and replaced by chanting ("Death to the Americans..." "Down with imerialists..." etc.) .

The students reported that the chanting occurred immediately after Khomeni had used exactly the same rhetorical techniques as the ones that trigger applause in the West and, even more interestingly, regularly faded out after 8 plus or minus 1 second.

The last time I remember the congregation applauding a eulogy was after Lord Spencer finished speaking at the funeral of his sister, Princess Diana.

But it happened again on Saturday after President Obama’s eulogy at the funeral of Edward Kennedy, where the clapping went on for 35 seconds or just over four times longer than a standard burst of applause.

In this clip, you can check out for yourself what 'longer than normal' sounds like to you:

video

30 August 2009

Tabloid tirade about Ted Kennedy from the Daily Mail

When it comes to no-holds barred, moralistic and holier than thou journalism, the Daily Mail takes some beating.

If you saw the clip from Vice-president Biden’s moving tribute to Edward Kennedy I posted the other day and/or President Obama’s eulogy at yesterday’s funeral, don’t be taken in for a moment by such blinkered and biassed die-hard Democats.

The Mail Online will put you right, as you can see from their tasteful headline:

'Ted Kennedy: The Senator of Sleeze who was a drunk sexual bully ... and left a young woman to die'

Click HERE for the truth according to the Daily Mail – and to hell with the grief of the bereaved Kennedy family, friends and colleagues, not to mention what millions of other Americans might be feeling.

POSTSCRIPT: A FEW HOURS AFTER POSTING THE ABOVE:
My thanks to Charles Crawford (whose blog also has some interesting posts on the same subject) for drawing my attention to THIS fascinating piece about Kennedy's televised speech after Chappaquiddick. Having read and watched all the links from it, I have to admit that the Daily Mail article does have a point - and it's not very often I've ever done that!

But it may help to explain something about the speeches by both Biden and Obama that had somewhat puzzled me, namely their sheer length, with about 10 minutes from the Vice-President and nearer 15 minutes from the President at the funeral.

In the case of Biden, I'd put it down to his well-known verbosity, but I was very surprised to see Obama making quite such an extended meal of it.

Maybe, when there are some very negative facts about the deceased that you know and everyone else knows that you're not mentioning, one solution is to go on and on about the virtues of the deceased at great length - on the off chance that there'll be enough of them for the good memories to offset the bad and, perhaps even, achieve some kind of redemption.

PowerPoint on BBC Radio Scotland

I'm about to be interviewed about PowerPoint on the BBC Radio Scotland Business Show.

You should be able to listen again on BBC iPlayer HERE - about 11 minutes in after end of the news and discussion of Scottish pub business.

This particular feature was prompted by two recent posts on the BBC website:


And there's much more on visual aids in my books!

28 August 2009

Joe Biden's moving tribute to Edward Kennedy

Of the all the tributes to Edward Kennedy I've heard over the past couple of days, the one that stood out for me came from Vice-president Joe Biden (full text HERE and full video HERE).

A bit long, maybe, but there were moments of genuine sincerity that could perhaps only have been said by someone who’d lost a wife and child in a road accident and knew from his own experience the importance of support from friends and relations when you’re struggling to come to terms with such trauma.

Interestingly, two of the most quoted passages from Biden’s speech came from the following short sequence – one was a simple piece of imagery - “he was kind of like an anchor” - and the other a reasserted contrast “it was never about him. It was always about you. It was never about him.”

There were other neat rhetorical flourishes as well, such as the opening three-part list in which the third item contrasted with the first two, another neat contrast and the anecdotes about Kennedy phoning him every day and arranging for doctors from Massachusetts to turn up out of the blue and about what Kennedy’s wife had said to him near the end (another contrast)

But, as I've so often said and written in the past, seeing a speaker exhibiting such technical skill in no way diminishes either the sincerity or the positive impact conveyed by his message.


BIDEN:
I literally would not be standing here were it not for Teddy Kennedy,
(1) not figuratively,
(2) this is not hyperbole
(3) but literally.



He was there -- he stood with me when my wife and daughter were killed in an accident. He was on the phone with me literally every day in the hospital, my two children were attempting, and, God willing, God thankfully survived very serious injuries.

I'd turn around and there would be some specialist from Massachusetts, a doc I never even asked for, literally sitting in the room with me.

(A) You know, it's not just me that he affected like that.
(B) It's hundreds upon hundreds of people.

I was talking to Vicki this morning and she said - she said,

(A) “He was ready to go, Joe,
(B) “but we were not ready to let him go."

He's left a great void in our public life and a hole in the hearts of millions of Americans and hundreds of us who were affected by his personal touch throughout our lives.

People like me, who came to rely on him.

He was kind of like an anchor.

And unlike many important people in my 38 years I've had the privilege of knowing, the unique thing about Teddy was

(A) it was never about him.
(B) It was always about you.
(A) It was never about him.



video

RELATED POSTS:
The enduring challenge and importance of funeral orations
Gordon Brown's model example of how to express condolences

(And, on the rhetorical techniques mentioned here, type 'rhetoric' into the search box at the top of the page for similar examples from Barack Obama and other famous speakers).

27 August 2009

The Banksy exhibition at Bristol Museum

Having announced the Banksy exhibition at Bristol Museum on the blog at the beginning of June, I'm now feeling guilty that I didn't go earlier, not just because I'd have liked to have gone again, but also because I'd have been strongly recommending everyone else to go too.

The show ends in a few days time, but you can get a flavour of it by typing 'Banksy' into YouTube, where quite a lot of it can now be seen.

There are also links to other videos towards the end of the one below, which includes some of the exhibits I was most taken with, like the picture of a river with water running out of it because it had been hung at an angle, the gleaner who had left the painting to sit on the frame for a smoke and the fish fingers swimming around in a goldfish bowl.

What doesn't come across in the videos I've watched so far was a clever piece of marketing for Bristol Museum. Apart from the rooms dedicated to Banksy's work, the artist had also deposited other items at unpredictable points around the rest of the museum. To see them, you had to go around looking for where they'd been hidden in all the permanent collections, and I'm sure that many people will, like me, return when the exhibition is over and the queues have subsided to take a closer look at (what I learnt today) is a very fine museum.

If you're curious to know more about Banksy, you can look HERE. There's also a rview of the exhibition in the Daily Telegraph, and the Mail on Sunday even claims to have uncovered his real identity.

We also managed to get in without queuing at all and did so in a manner that I think Banksy would have approved of. However, as a tribute to his success at secrecy, I have no intention of revealing how we did it.





26 August 2009

Einstein 'chalk & talk' competition



Twitter strikes again: without it, I might never have heard about this terrific way of modifying the picture of Einstein that was featured in the first of my posts on 'chalk & talk' a few days ago - so thanks again to Olivia Mitchell for tweeting it.

It suggests a competition for the best entry on the blackboard.

All you have to do is to click on 'modifying the picture' above, write whatever you like on the blackboard and email your version of the picture to me before 10th September.

PRIZE: The best entry will receive a free signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations OR Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy - in both of which there's more on the relative merits of 'chalk & talk', PowerPoint and other types of visual aid.

Meanwhile, you can mug up on related issues from these earlier posts:

PREVIOUS POSTS ON CHALK & TALK
PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (1) The beginning of the end
PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (2) The lost art
PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (3) Glimmers of hope

PREVIOUS POST ON OBJECTS AS VISUAL AIDS
Objects as visual aids: Obama & Archbishop Sentamu in action

PREVIOUS POSTS ON POWERPOINT INCLUDE
PowerPoint program on BBC Radio 4
BBC Television News slideshow quiz
How NOT to use PowerPoint
If Bill Gates doesn’t read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation
PowerPoint presentation continues to dominate BBC News – courtesy Robert Peston (again)
Slidomania contaminates another BBC channel
There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint – until there’s an audience
BBC Television News: produced by of for morons?
PowerPoint comes to church




On the death of Edward Kennedy: “the dream shall never die”

Speeches by all three of the Kennedy brothers are to be found in the top 100 American speeches listed on the website American Rhetoric.

For me, one of the most memorable ones by Edward Kennedy was delivered shortly after I had started studying political speeches in 1980: his address to the Democratic National Convention, now ranked at 76th in the top 100.

To mark his death, here are the final few sentences, which, somewhat unusually, end with a 4 part list that has been much quoted since:

And someday, long after this convention, long after the signs come down and the crowds stop cheering, and the bands stop playing, may it be said of our campaign that we kept the faith.

May it be said of our Party in 1980 that we found our faith again.

And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

I am a part of all that I have met

To [Tho] much is taken, much abides

That which we are, we are --

One equal temper of heroic hearts

Strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


For me, a few hours ago, this campaign came to an end.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.





MORE ON 3 PART LISTS & OTHER RHETORICAL TECHNIQUES
Why lists of three: mystery, magic or reason?
Lists of 3 and other rhetorical devices in Obama’s victory speech
Tom Peters: high on rhetoric but low on content?
When the young Paddy Ashdown surprised himself by the power of his own rhetoric
David Cameron’s attack on the budget used some well-crafted rhetoric
Rhetoric wins applause for questioners on BBC Question Time

P.S. FOR OTHERS SCEPTICAL ABOUT OR NEW TO TWITTER:
In the 'Pros' listed the other day, I included the fact that announcing new blog posts on Twitter can increase the number of visitors to the blog.

It also turns out that there's a more indirect way of this happening via Twitter. Since the death of Edward Kennedy, a lot of people have been typing 'thedreamshallneverdie' into Twitter search - as a result of which, some have found and visited this page.

25 August 2009

What's 'news' about Gordon Brown not answering a question?

The silly season doesn’t get much sillier than when the leading story on all of tonight’s leading news programmes on radio and television was the apparently astonishing fact that that Gordon Brown had not answered a question about his position on the release of the Lockerbie bomber during today's Downing Street press conference.

It raises the question of whether all our top journalists have been asleep since Brown first emerged as a leading Labour politician more than a decade and a half ago.

Otherwise, they would surely have noticed that he has never knowingly answered any question ever put to him - and that more of the same hardly counts as 'news' (for more on which, see HERE).

24 August 2009

Mehrabian's moans about the myth

The debate about the Merhrabian myth has been going on for a few weeks now, and Olivia Mitchell deserves congratulating for prompting so much discussion – and, if you want to know where I stand on the issue, you can catch up on some of my earlier posts about it from the links below.

If you missed the interview on BBC Radio 4, where Dr Mehrabian is to be heard bemoaning the way his statistics have been misinterpreted, it should still be available HERE (23 minutes into the tape).

He took a very similar line to that in an e-mail exchange I had with him seven years ago when I was writing the chapter ‘Physical Facts and Fiction’ for my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears’ and the relevant section went as follows:


In some cases, there is a huge gulf between the originators of the research and their disciples, both in the amount of confidence shown in such ‘facts,’ and in the extent to which they hold them to be generally applicable. This is certainly true of the 93% claim, which first reached a wider public with the publication of the book Silent messages: Implicit communication of emotions and attitudes by Dr Albert Mehrabian, a social psychologist at the University of California, in 1981. But, as he pointed out to me in an e-mail, the research on which it was based dates from more than a decade before that, and was actually concerned with feelings and attitudes:

“This work of mine has received considerable attention in the literature. It was reported originally by Mehrabian & Weiner (1967) and Mehrabian & Ferris (1967). Silent Messages contains a detailed discussion of my findings on inconsistent and consistent messages of feelings and attitudes.
Total Liking = 7% Verbal Liking + 38% Vocal Liking + 55% Facial Liking.”
(Albert Mehrabian , personal communication, e-mail, 16 October 2002).

A key point to note here is that Dr Mehrabian’s original percentages refer to different types of ‘liking’, and not to communication in all its forms. And, as one of the originators of these numbers, he writes with far more caution about their general applicability than is ever shown by the popularisers of his work:

“Please note that this and other equations regarding differential importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e. like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable.” (Albert Mehrabian, personal communication, e-mail, 16 October 2002).

Unlike Dr Mehrabian, those who recycle these percentages with such confidence have few qualms about generalising way beyond anything he ever intended. Their cavalier disregard for the details of his research is also a matter of some concern to him, as he indicated in the reply to an e-mail in which I asked him what he thought about his findings being so widely used to mislead people about the relative importance of verbal and non-verbal communication:

“I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning, I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings. Unfortunately, the field of self-styled ‘corporate image consultants’ or ‘leadership consultants’ has numerous practitioners with very little psychological expertise.” (Albert Mehrabian , personal communication, e-mail, 31 October 2002).

23 August 2009

Verdict after four weeks on Twitter

I didn’t join Twitter lightly, as I wasn’t at all convinced that it would be worth the time and effort. But if I didn’t have a go, I’d never know.

So what, after the first four weeks Tweeting and reading Tweets, is the verdict so far?

Pros:

  1. I’ve come across some useful links to interesting people, blogs and websites that I’d probably never have heard about without Twitter.
  1. Some links to blog posts, websites, etc. do turn out to be well worth reading.
  1. Announcing new blog posts of my own on Twitter increases the number of visitors to this blog.
  1. A side effect of (3) is that there’s also been an increase in the number of other blogs that are now including links to this one.
  1. Since joining, there’s been some improvement in the ranking of my books on the Amazon bestsellers lists.
  1. I find Tweets useful for occasional short rants or questions that aren’t worth a longer post here.

Cons:

  1. I find the stream of consciousness stuff extremely irritating and self-indulgent – i.e. I’m baffled as to why so many people think that anyone else (and especially total strangers like me) could possibly be interested in mundane personal waffle about their daily lives, such as going jogging, what they had for breakfast/lunch/dinner and/or whether they’ve taken their children/grandchildren to the seaside or bought them an ice cream while they were there.
  1. Nor do I understand why so many quotations and management platitudes get posted on Twitter - when there are plenty of other sources, both on websites and in books (remember them?).

But, as the Pros so clearly outnumber the Cons, I’ll be carrying on with it for a while longer.

22 August 2009

The 'detective story' principle and puzzle-solution formats

The last two posts have featured comments on using slides and visual aids by the late Sir Lawrence Bragg.

But he also had a good understanding of the effectiveness of story-telling and leading audiences to the solution of a puzzle in presentations:

'There is a most important principle which I think of as the 'detective story' principle. It is a matter of order. How dull a detective story would be if the writer told you who did it in the first chapter and then gave you the clues.

'Yet how many lectures do exactly this. One wishes to give the audience the aesthetic pleasure of seeing how puzzling phenomena become crystal clear when one has the clue and thinks about them in the right way. So make sure the audience is first puzzled.

'A friend of mine, a barrister, told me, that, when presenting a case to a judge, if he could appear to be fumbling toward a solution and could entice the judge to say "But, Mr. X, isn't the point you are trying to make this or that?" he had as good as won the case.

'One wants to get the audience into this frame of mind, when they are coaxed to guess for themselves what the answer is. Again I fear I am saying the trite and obvious, but I can assure you I have often sat and groaned at hearing a lecturer murder the most exciting story just by putting things in the wrong order.'

(From Advice to Lecturers: An anthology taken from the writings of Michael Faraday & Lawrence Bragg, London: The Royal Institution of Great Britain, 1974, ISBN 07201 04467).

Although Bragg was dealing here with the overall structure of a lecture or presentation, much shorter puzzle-solution formats are also one of the main rhetorical techniques discussed and recommended in my books, and I posted some video clips of them triggering applause HERE.

21 August 2009

Showing what you mean: more from Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg

The previous post featured a comparison between the use of slides and drawing on a board by the late Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg, who continued the Royal Society's Christmas lectures for children that Michael Faraday (left) had started in the nineteenth century. Here's a related gem from Bragg'*:

'To the layman the difference between the description of an experiment and the actual witnessing of it is as great as the difference between looking at a foreign country on the map and visiting it; we grasp its geography in a far more vivid way when we have been to the place.

'One is struck again and again by the immense superiority, as judged by the effect on the audience, of a series of experiments and demonstrations explained by a talk over a lecture illustrated by slides. The Christmas Lectures to young people at the Royal Institution afford a good instance.

'It is surprising how often people in all walks of life own that their interest in science was first aroused by attending one of these courses when they were young, and in recalling their impressions they almost invariably say not 'we were told' but ‘we were shown’ this or that’ (Bragg’s own emphasis).

(*Advice to Lecturers: An anthology taken from the writings of Michael Faraday & Lawrence Bragg, London: The Royal Institution of Great Britain, 1974, ISBN 07201 04467).

20 August 2009

A Nobel prize winner’s view on slides versus ‘chalk and talk’


One of the best things I’ve ever read on presenting complicated technical material to audiences is an anthology published by the Royal Institution that was taken from the writings of Michael Faraday (19th century pioneer of magnetism and electricity) and Lawrence Bragg (20th century Nobel prize winner).

Both of them were famous for their ability to take audiences, whether lay or professional, to the frontiers of science.

Writing decades before the invention of PowerPoint, Bragg had this to say about slides and ‘chalk and talk’ (which isn't a million miles away from some of the points in my last three posts on the subject):



'Lecturers love slides, and in a game of associations the word 'lecture' would almost always evoke the reply 'slide'. But I think we ought to apply to slides the same test, 'What will the audience remember?'

'Some information can only be conveyed as slides, photographs, or records of actual events, such as the movement of a recording instrument, for instance, a seismograph. But slides of graphs or tables of figures are in general out of place in a lecture, or, at any rate, should be used most sparingly, just because the audience has not time to absorb them.

'If the lecturer wishes to illustrate a point with a graph, it is much better to draw it, or perhaps clamp the component parts on a magnetic board or employ some device of that kind.

'I remember well the first time I was impressed by this latter device, during a lecture on airflow through turbine blades. The lecturer altered the angle of incidence and the air arrows by shifting the parts on the board.

'It is again a question of tempo – the audience can follow at about the rate one can draw (my emphasis); one is forced to be simple, and the slight expertise of the drawing holds attention. One must constantly think of what will be retained in the audience’s memory, not of what can be crammed into the lecture.'

(From Advice to Lecturers: An anthology taken from the writings of Michael Faraday & Lawrence Bragg, London: The Royal Institution of Great Britain, 1974, ISBN 07201 04467),

PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (3) Glimmers of hope


Welcome to anyone who's arrived here, directly or indirectly, via the link on yesterday's BBC website - in which case you must have an interest in speaking and presentation. If so, that's what this blog is mostly about, and you can see a list of (and link to) everything that's been posted here since Gordon Brown's party conference speech last year by clicking HERE.

As this is the third in a series of three posts marking 25 years of PowerPoint, you might like to look first at the previous ones on 'The beginning of the end' and 'The lost art'. And, if you haven't already seen it, you might also like see the short piece on yesterday's
BBC website, where there's also an interesting, if worrying, slide show about PPt.


As it’s probably too late for a cultural counter-revolution that would take us back to the good old days when chalk and talk ruled supreme, the best we can hope for is that salvation may be at hand in three glimmers of hope built into presentational software like PowerPoint.

1. Dynamic and animated functions
The first is that the dynamic and animated functions make it fairly easy to simulate some of the benefits of chalk and talk by enabling you to put things up as you talk about them – whether by building points up step-by-step, or by creating diagrams that appear to draw themselves on the screen.

2. Pictorial and graphical functions
Another glimmer of hope is that PowerPoint has tremendous pictorial and graphical capabilities that make it easy for speakers to make the most of the fact that audiences find genuinely visual slides, such as pictures, simple graphs, etc., much more helpful than ones made up of nothing but words and numbers.

3. Blank slides
Finally, you can bring considerable relief to your audiences by switching everything off for a while – either by pressing the relevant button on the keyboard or by inserting slides consisting of nothing but a black background, both of which make it look as though there’s nothing on the screen at all.

This is, in effect, the electronic equivalent of turning over to a blank page on a flip chart or rubbing chalk off a blackboard, and forces listeners to focus on nothing else but you and what you are saying – at least until the appearance of the next slide.

BUT:
Unfortunately, only a tiny minority presenters are making any use of any of these options. The vast majority of slides I see still consist of seemingly endless lists of bullet points, and the full potential of PowerPoint is still a long way from being realised.


The 1960s argument about blackboards versus whiteboards may be a thing of the past, but it is surely time for an urgent debate about the relative merits of using slides, chalk and talk and other types of visual aid.

Otherwise, the danger is that the real cost of the new orthodoxy will not be the millions spent on computers, software and projectors, nor the enormous waste of time and money resulting from people attending presentations from which they get little or no benefit – which, for the UK, I’ve estimated at more than £7.8 billion a year.

The real price and the real tragedy will be the incalculable long-term damage that will come from continuing to believe that PowerPoint is a foolproof panacea for presenters, when it's no more than a tool. And, like any tool, its effectiveness depends on its users understanding its limitations, as well as its strengths.

(Although this is more or less where I'd originally planned to end this series, the interest stimulated by the BBC website means that there could well be a few more related posts in the not too distant future).


PREVIOUS POSTS ON POWERPOINT INCLUDE:
PowerPoint program on BBC Radio 4
BBC Television News slideshow quiz
How NOT to use PowerPoint
If Bill Gates doesn’t read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation
PowerPoint presentation continues to dominate BBC News – courtesy Robert Peston (again)
Slidomania contaminates another BBC channel
There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint – until there’s an audience
BBC Television News: produced by of for morons?
PowerPoint comes to church

19 August 2009

PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (2) The lost art

A warm welcome to anyone who's arrived here via the link on today's BBC website - in which case you're probably interested in speaking and presentation. If so, that's what this blog is mostly about, and you can see a list of (and link to) everything that's been posted here since Gordon Brown's party conference speech last year by clicking HERE.

As this is the second in a series of three posts marking 25 years of PowerPoint, you might like to look first at the previous post on 'The beginning of the end'. And, if you haven't already seen it, you might also like see the short piece on today's
BBC website.

1. A more ‘natural’ form of communication
One of the great advantages of chalk and talk is that there is something very natural about it: unlike speaking from slides, it has a close parallel in everyday life. We’re very used to showing others where a place is by drawing a map on a scrap of paper; sometimes, we’ll sketch out a diagram to explain what something looks like or how it works.

Chalk and talk simply extends the practice of writing on the back of an envelope to the bigger canvas of a large vertical surface that everyone can see. But the lack of an everyday equivalent of speaking from slides makes it a more contrived and less natural form of communication.

2. Less interference with eye-contact
Slides also have negative side effects that make it more difficult for presenters to hold the attention of audiences, central among which is the serious disruption of eye-contact. This is partly because speakers spend so much time looking at the screen, and partly because audiences have to keep glancing from speaker to screen and back again for however long the presentation lasts.

With chalk and talk, these repeated breaches in eye-contact are less of a problem – for the very obvious reason that you are never more than an arm’s length away from whatever it is you are showing to your audience.

3. Better coordination between the talk and the visual aid
Speaking about what you’re putting on the board while you’re doing it more or less guarantees that there’ll be a very close connection between what you’re saying and what everyone is looking at – which makes it much easier for listeners to stay on track than when they have to read up and down lists, trying to find a connection between what they’re hearing and what they’re reading.

4. Protection from information overload
Of all the innovations that came with the arrival of slide-dependency the most disastrous was the ease with which you can project large amounts of detailed written and numerical information on to the screen, a practice based on the dubious assumption that people can readily absorb complex detail at a glance.

By contrast, chalk and talk protects audiences from being overwhelmed by such massive and painful information overload, because it forces speakers to develop their arguments step-by-step and at a comfortable pace that’s easy for listeners to follow and take in.

5. Spontaneity and authoritativeness
Writing things up as you go along also involves a degree of spontaneity, authoritativeness and liveliness that’s hardly ever achieved with slides. I’ve now asked hundreds of people how many really enthusiastic and inspiring slide-driven presentations they have seen, and most of them have trouble in coming up with a single example.

But with chalk and talk, whatever’s being written or drawn on the board is being done here and now for the sole benefit of everyone in the room, rather than being a pre-packaged list that’s been cooked up in advance and perhaps even been circulated beforehand. Unlike speakers who have to look at their slides before they know what to say next, someone using a board or flipchart has to be in full control of their material and can convey an air of confidence, authority and command over the subject matter that’s much more difficult to achieve when using slides as prompts.

(To be continued and concluded tomorrow in Part 3: 'Glimmers of hope').

18 August 2009

PowerPoint and the demise of Chalk & Talk: (1) The beginning of the end


A warm welcome to anyone who's arrived here via the BBC website - in which case you're probably interested in speaking and presentation. If so, that's what this blog is mostly about, and you can see a list of (and link to) everything that's been posted here since Gordon Brown's party conference speech last year by clicking HERE.


We may have reached the 25th anniversary of PowerPoint, but how many of us will be celebrating?

This is the first in a series of three posts on one particularly destructive part of its legacy of collateral damage to our ability to communicate with each other.


When new universities were being built during the 1960s, there were arguments at some of them about whether to install blackboards or whiteboards in the lecture theatres. The pro-blackboard lobby opposed change because, they claimed, it would spell the end of tax relief for damage to clothes from chalk dust. Advocates of white boards thought them trendy, modern and more in keeping with the architecture of the new universities.

But one thing that was never questioned by either side was that writing or drawing on boards, whether black or white, was an indispensable part of the presentational process.

Today, the debate would be about what kind of computer and projection systems should be installed, and what would never be questioned would be the effectiveness of PowerPoint presentations – even though there remain serious questions about whether this dramatic technological shift in the way visual aids are used was a change for the better.

Like a 20th century Pandora’s box, the computer, aided and abetted by Microsoft, has unleashed new and previously unheard of maladies on millions of unwary victims. Chronic slide-dependency has reached pandemic proportions, its main symptoms being a compulsive urge by speakers to put up one boring slide after another, and an inability to say anything without reading from prompts on the screen. It has inhibited the ability of presenters to convey enthusiasm for their subjects and infects those on the receiving end with confusion and self-doubt as they slip quietly into a coma, blaming themselves for their inability to absorb so much information in so short a space of time.

Ask people how they like listening to the modern slide-driven style of delivery, and you’ll soon discover a deep groundswell of dissatisfaction. Go a step further and ask how they rate the slide-dependent majority as compared with the eccentric And tiny minority who still use chalk and talk, and the verdict invariably comes down against the new orthodoxy.

As for how a style of speaking that audiences don’t much like became the norm I’ve discussed in more detail elsewhere (along with the relative merits of other types of visual aid). Part of the story is that it probably all come about because of a terrible accident.

AN UNEXPECTED RESULT OF TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION

Slide-dependency can be seen as the legacy of a change in the way the overhead projector – PowerPoint’s immediate ancestor – was originally intended to be used. The invention of the OHP, if anyone can remember that far back, was designed to overcome a problem with using chalk and talk when speaking to large audiences, namely that people couldn’t see what was being put on the board from a long distance away. So the original natural habitat of the OHP was the large auditorium, where speakers used them in much the same way as they’d used blackboards, writing on a roll of acetate and winding it forward whenever they ran out of space.

Then came what must surely be the darkest day in the history of the modern presentation: the arrival of a new breed of photocopiers in the 1970s that was no longer limited to copying on to paper, but could print directly on to sheets of acetate. What seemed rather a small technological step turned out to be a giant leap into completely new way of presenting. More and more speakers stopped writing and drawing as they went along and started using pre-prepared slides made up of lists that were, in effect, their notes.

This new style of delivery not only survived the replacement of OHPs by computerised graphics, but was also implicitly encouraged by assumptions built into programs like PowerPoint.

Most of the initial templates it offers to users are for producing lists of bullet points. What’s more, a fairly recent version came equipped with the added bonus of a set of 23 ‘model’ presentations to make your life easier. They were made up of 214 slides, 94% of which – yes, more than nine out of ten of them – consisted entirely of written words and sentences.

In the light of this, there’s something very strange to hear a Microsoft executive announcing that one of the best PowerPoint presentations he ever heard had no slides with bullet points on them, or when Bill Gates himself didn’t use them in his TED presenation.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all about the PowerPoint revolution was that no one seemed to notice what was happening, let alone stop and ask whether anything important was being lost by the sudden death of chalk and talk.

But, having continued to advocate the effectiveness of using blackboards, whiteboards and flipcharts, I can report that none of my pupils who has tried it out has ever regretted it, and most say that they achieved better rapport with their audiences than they had ever experienced when using slides. This, together with other evidence accumulated over the past twenty years, has convinced me that a wider discussion of its forgotten benefits is long overdue.

(To be continued in Part 2: 'The lost art').

PREVIOUS POSTS ON POWERPOINT INCLUDE:
PowerPoint program on BBC Radio 4
BBC Television News slideshow quiz
How NOT to use PowerPoint
If Bill Gates doesn’t read bullet points from PowerPoint slides
An imaginative innovation in a PowerPoint presentation
PowerPoint presentation continues to dominate BBC News – courtesy Robert Peston (again)
Slidomania contaminates another BBC channel
There’s nothing wrong with PowerPoint – until there’s an audience
BBC Television News: produced by of for morons?
PowerPoint comes to church

15 August 2009

Body language news from Germany

Followers of previous discussions of body language and non-verbal communication may be interested to know that the news from Germany about Angela Merkel's recent election poster might be about to force me to revise some of my previously expressed views on the subject.

After earlier posts on baldness, height, folded arms and dark glasses (see below), it now looks as though I might have to address the delicate issue of breasts.

I've already written about femininity and charisma in the case of Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, but the question of breasts had obviously escaped me completely. Looks like a case for further research!

Anyone interested in catching up on previous posts on body language and non-verbal communication can do so by clicking on any of the following:

Body language and non-verbal communication
Another body language & non-verbal communication cartoon
Non-verbal communication
Body language, non-verbal communication and the myth about folded arms and defensiveness
Margaret Thatcher, body language and non-verbal communication
Non-verbal communication and height
Presidential heights
Impersonators as masterful analysts of non-verbal communication
Eye contact, public speaking and the case of President Zuma’s dark glasses
Hair today, win tomorrow: baldness and charisma?
Body language and non-verbal communication video

14 August 2009

Dreaming of sex costs the nation £7.8bn a year: the cost of boring presentations


Having just been asked to write a short piece on PowerPoint (on which more in due course), I had a look through some old files for any stuff than might be worth recycling.

One thing I'd forgotten about was a press release I'd issued not long after the publication of Lend Me Your Ears back in 2004.

I'd heard some PR guru say that one of the surest ways of getting stories into the media was to start off with 'research shows ...'

So I did one of the simplest pieces of research I'd ever done in my life to see if it worked. And it didn't do too badly either: it was picked up by the BBC website and the Sunday Times (though I hasten to add that the claim about sex in the title had nothing to do with me).

All that was five years before this blog started, so it's highly unlikely that any of you will have seen or heard anything about this gripping tale.

To quote the key words in the royal charter of the BBC, I hope it 'informs, educates and entertains'. And, if anyone can be bothered to work out how much is going down the drain each year in your company, organisation or country, do let us know - and maybe we could get the story going again.

The unedited verbatim press release, complete with its official-sounding (but completely pointless) 'embargo' went as follows:

PRESS RELEASE FROM ATKINSON COMMUNICATIONS

BORING PRESENTATIONS COST BRITISH INDUSTRY £8 BILLION A YEAR: NEW RESEARCH BY BUSINESS SCHOOL PROFESSOR AS CBI CONFERENCE STARTS

Embargo: 00.01 a.m. on Monday 8th November 2004

Research into audience reactions to business presentations by Max Atkinson, visiting professor at the Henley Management College, has discovered that boring presentations are costing British industry at least £8bn a year.

It reveals widespread dissatisfaction among managers with the slide-dependent style of presentation that is standard practice in most companies.

"The extraordinary thing is that even people who don't like being on the receiving end when they're sitting in an audience still use the same slide-dependent approach when making presentations themselves," says Atkinson.

"If a company employs 200 managers at an average salary of £30,000 p.a., and each of them spends an average of one hour per week at presentations," he says, "the annual cost to the company will be £178,000.00. Grossed up, the estimated cost to British industry as a whole comes to a massive £7.8 billion a year."

Atkinson emphasises that this is a conservative estimate, as it's based solely on the average salary per hour of audiences attending presentations. Factors not included are the opportunity cost of managers spending time away from their primary duties, the cost per hour of time spent by presenters preparing their slides, travel expenses, venue and equipment hire or refreshments.

According to Atkinson, "The modern business presentation has lost its way. Every day, thousands of managers are attending presentations, from which they are getting little or no benefit. Companies seem agreed that the customer is always right, but when it comes to presentations they don't seem to realise that the audience is the only customer that matters.

"It's high time industry started to face up to the scale and cost of the problem," he says. "We know from listening to what audiences have to say that there are better ways of communicating than ploughing through an endless succession of bullet points projected on to a screen."

No smoke without ire

Save Our Pubs and Clubs

I’ve been thinking of writing something along these lines since I first heard that there’s a campaign to amend the smoking ban, and I do so in the full knowledge that about three out of four of you are quite likely to disapprove of it.

Apart from Gordon Brown’s disgraceful attack on pension funds after becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1997, there are two other reasons why I hope Labour is voted out of office at the next election: one is the extremism of their total ban smoking in public places and the other is their ill-intentioned banning of hunting with hounds (which is not my topic for today).

As far as smoking is concerned, I don’t have any objection at all to banning it in restaurants. But I can see no rational justification for banning pubs, clubs, hotels, airport terminals, etc. from providing specially allocated smoking rooms (fitted, of course, with state of the art extractor fans and located a ‘safe’ distance away from non-smoking rooms).

The irrationality of the total ban has been highlighted, unsurprisingly, by market forces, as the rate at which pubs are closing down continues at a relentless and unprecedented rate.

NAPA NONSENSE

My first encounter with the kind of draconian discrimination against smokers we now suffer in the UK came when I was trying to find somewhere to stay in California’s Napa Valley.

One hotel’s website announced that a $500 surcharge would be added to the credit card of anyone found smoking not just inside the building, but anywhere within its grounds. My response was to send them an email pointing out that I’d obviously been completely misled by some of America’s core PR boasts on its own behalf, most notably:

(1) the USA’s oft-repeated claim to be the world’s leading example of individual freedom and liberty (for more on which, see also HERE) and

(2) the USA’s related claim to be the world’s leading proponent of market economics – which is hardly consistent with rational entrepreneurs voluntarily opting to reduce their sales by excluding (or deterring) 25% of the potential market.

Needless to say, they didn’t reply, and we made the economically rational decision to stay at another hotel in the Napa Valley, where smoking was permitted on a terrace in the garden.

A few days later, we signed in at a hotel in San Francisco, self-proclaimed and widely recognized as the most liberal of all American cities. But the only sign of it being any more liberal than the Napa Valley hoteliers was the lower credit charge surcharge of a mere $250 for smoking inside the building.

HUMIDORS FOR SALE

Several years later, and a day or two after the smoking ban came into force in the UK, we stayed at a hotel on the Dorset coast, where there was a large humidor displaying a fine range of Cuban cigars that could have kept Winston Churchill going for a quite a few weeks.

Fortunately, the August weather was mild enough for me to indulge in one with a glass of Cognac after dinner – outside on the terrace. But what if it had been raining and what if had been in December?

The full force of our government’s enlightened legislation began to strike home. The long-standing tradition of rounding off dinner with a relaxing and luxurious treat had been consigned to the past. It was now illegal, except when the weather’s fine enough to sit outside (or unless you're one of the privileged few who can drink in a bar in the Houses of Parliament).

So hotels like this will presumably have put their humidors and their valuable contents on E-bay, as the time it takes to enjoy a good cigar means that a quick puff or two in the car park is a pointless and irrationally expensive exercise (market forces strike again).

A PUFFIN ROOM

Last week, however, we stayed at a delightful hotel that had come up with as good a compromise as I’ve seen so far. Although I very much hope that their imaginative investment will bring them the financial rewards they deserve, I’m not going to reveal its name or where it is – for the simple reason that, if their local district council’s ‘smoking solutions officer’ (sic) is anything like ours, this particular smoking shelter would almost certainly be written off for being far too comfortable, not draughty enough and therefore illegal.

Next to the terrace they had built a tastefully designed summerhouse equipped with comfortable chairs, heating, lighting, tables and ashtrays. At first sight, the notice on the door saying ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’ suggested it was off-limits to guests.

But it wasn’t, and I presume that the point of the notice was to define anyone in there as a private guest who had been invited into this particular piece of private property by its owners, who also happened to be the private owners of the hotel.

Whether or not it was technically ‘legal’ under existing legislation, I have my doubts. But I don’t know and don’t care – because it was such a welcome blast from the past to be able puff away, have a gin and tonic and inspect the menu at the same time – and, thanks to the heating arrangements, it would have been just as comfortable in December as it was in August.

What’s more, and this really is the point, the solution was as acceptable to me as it presumably was to other guests who chose not to sit in the Puffin room.

The Campaign to Amend the Smoking Ban is not campaigning to abolish the smoking ban. It is not campaigning to return things to where they were before the Act. Nor is it campaigning for the right to inflict smoke on recipients who have no choice in the matter.

It is, however, campaigning for arrangements that would allow greater freedom of choice for everyone, a by-product of which might actually help to preserve another long standing British tradition by slowing down the alarming rate of pub closures.

For more details, visit the Amend the Smoking Ban website, where there is complete freedom of choice as to whether or not to sign up.