29 September 2010

Delayed applause for Ed Miliband's claims on the 'centre ground'

Interpreting where and when audiences applaud (or not) looks like being a major theme of this year's party conference season.

Yesterday, the media made much of the fact that Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman applauded when Ed Miliband declared that Labour's involvement in the Iraq war was was wrong - and was apparently chastised for doing so by David Miliband because she'd voted for it.
It now it looks as though this may have been the last straw for the older Miliband's 'graciousness' in the face of defeat and is about to drive him out of front-line politics.

Withholding applause
Some television news reports also showed us two top union leaders resolutely not applauding (and looking grumpy) while the rest of the audience clapped his announcement that he'd 'have no truck' with irresponsible strikes - which reminded me of a vintage TV BBC Newsnight interview in which Peter Snow pressed Francis Pym, a senior cabinet member in the Thatcher Government, for not applauding enough during a speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (which you can see HERE).

Delayed applause
As regular readers may have noticed, this year's conference season is becoming a gold mine of examples of audiences delaying applause for key points that, if they agreed more unequivocally with them, should have prompted a rather more instant response.

Luke warm LibDem support for the coalition?
At the LibDem conference, this happened in the speeches by Nick Clegg (HERE) and Vince Cable (HERE) in response to warm words about the coalition. The mainstream media didn't seem to notice either of these hints that LibDem activists' support for the coalition might be rather less enthusiastic than the official line suggests it is.

Lukewarm Labour support for the 'centre ground'?
Given all the talk of 'Red Ed' a similarly contentious issue at the conference was whether the new leader really would be taking the party away on a leftwards journey from 'the centre ground'.

And, although the audience may have applauded instantly and enthusiastically towards the end of the speech when he dismissed the 'Red Ed' tag, their earlier response when he said that Labour must stay in the centre was rather more luke warm.

In this first clip, his aim to "shape the centre ground of politics" is met with silence. Then, when he goes on to say "if we are not this party, nobody else will be", it takes the audience just over a second to get their hands apart:

video

A few moments later, he produces a contrast (normally a sure-fire way to prompt instant applause) - "it's a generation that will fight for the centre ground, not allow it to be dominated or defined by our opponents" - at which point the audience delays for about 1.5 seconds before the clapping gets under way:

video

What do the delays mean?
There are at least three ways of interpreting these delays.
  1. Labour Party activists are not very enthusiastic about re-occupying the 'centre ground'.
  2. They don't believe that he means it given his attacks on New Labour throughout his leadership campaign (and in this speech)).
  3. The delays might have been the result of poor speech-writing.
On this third point, this was one of a number of contrasts in Miliband's speech that ended on a negative rather than a positive and prompted delayed applause. In other posts (HERE and HERE), I've pointed out that contrasts tend to work better when the negative comes first and the positive comes second.

So these noticeable delays may mean little more than that he and/or his speechwriters still have a quite lot to learn. If time allows, expect more blogging on this in due course....

4 comments:

Dirk said...

isn't a 4th explanation for the delayed applause in E Miliband's speech (fragment 1) that he keeps on looking to the audience rather than lowering his gaze to the notes; as you pointed out with regard to Cable's and earlier Thatcher's speech?

Max Atkinson said...

Dirk: you're probably right. But I didn't think that was the most convincing example compared with the others and only included it in the clip because what followed wouldn't have been as intelligible without it.

There were also other places where it looked as though he hasn't yet got the hang of using a teleprompter/autocue - and that he hadn't rehearsed it enough, which is quite likely if he really was surprised to have won as he made out.

I know that D. Miliband had scribes already working on the speech that never was more than a week ago (and had maybe even practised it before he learnt that he'd lost).

But I was and still am intrigued by the other delays.

Hadleigh Roberts said...

On a training day today, have just been given the presentation about 7% of communication being non-verbal. I'm sure that you'll be sufficiently proud because I explained how the idea is ridiculous in detail, then about the Mehrabian study that is often cited without any common sense. The presenter responded to back up her point but the killer line was "now tell me that all again without using words!" Sadly, she won't be changing her presentation because the "facts are too convenient".

Max Atkinson said...

Thanks for this, Hadleigh. It really is incredible how trainers are so willing to trot out such twaddle, let alone that trainees (or their employers) don't seem to mind paying for it. Don't know if you've suffered any NLP (i.e. No Linguistic Proof), but when and if you do, you'll be just as amazed by the mythology of it all!