23 September 2010

More lessons from Vince Cable's speech

A few weeks ago, I blogged, not for the first time, about the Business Secretary's speeches under the heading If you can't remember Vince Cable's best lines, nor can he!

And there were some pretty good lines in yesterday's speech at the LibDem conference that both got the audience going and were picked up by the media.

Yesterday, I blogged about what struck me the oddest moment in the speech (HERE), when the audience took three seconds to get their hands apart on being told that we must make sure that the coalition is good for the Liberal Democrats as well - echoing as it did an extended delay before the applause started at a similar point in Nick Clegg's conference speech (HERE).

Today, I've been intrigued by a few more potentially instructive details.

1. Applause for the 3rd item in a 4-part list
This first clip, from his opening reminded me of a speech from years ago by Neil Kinnock, who produced a sequence of five consecutive rhetorical questions - and the audience applauded after the third one.

Here, Cable's script lists four of his achievements since coming to office - and the audience comes in after the third one.

Notice also that he moves to "I've concluded that" immediately and with no gap after completing the fourth item, but that the audience interrupts his attempt to continue with another burst of applause - creating the (positive) impression that they're so enthusiastic that showing approval is more important than letting him continue to his concluding punch-line:

video

2. Why did 'Yah-boo' contrasts prompt delayed applause?
During the election, I blogged about how Vince Cable had shown that 'Yah-boo politics can win victories for the LibDems' during the TV Chancellors' Debate.

Although contrasts are among the most reliable ways of triggering applause, especially when used to construct an attack on opponents, there were at least two examples in yesterday's speech where they didn't work quite as well as they could have done.

In the first one, it may have been because the key word in the second part of the contrast - "hindsight" - wasn't delivered clearly enough. On first hearing, I thought he said "unsight" or "insight", and had to check the text of the speech to discover that it was actually "hindsight".

If the audience in the hall had the same problem, it's hardly surprising that it took a while for the penny to drop:

video

In this next example, he's also attacking the Labour Party, but there's another two seconds pause between the end of the second part of the contrast ('plan A') and the applause getting under way.

As for why this delay happened, two factors may have played a part. One is that, after ending the first part of the contrast ('plan B') with rising intonation, it would have worked better if he'd used more decisively falling intonation to finish off the second part.

The second is that, when using a teleprompter, the eyes stay looking up in the air, implying that the speaker is going to carry on - and can create ambiguity in the minds of the audience as to whether or not he's finished. As can be seen in the videos posted HERE, this was quite a problem for Mrs Thatcher when she abandoned hard copy on a lectern in favour of reading from an Autocue (after which, her applause rate fell significantly).

All of which is to suggest that Mr Cable could move his performance up a notch or two with a bit more practice at reading from autocue screens.

video

Other teleprompter posts:

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