6 October 2010

Delayed applause, poor speechwriting & delivery strike again in George Osborne's speech

This year's curious trend of party conference audiences delaying applause at points where you'd have expected an instant or early response was on show again in George Osborne's speech at the Conservative Party conference.

In this first exsmple, they waited more than a second before showing their approval at being in government again after so long in opposition - and then failed to keep it going for the standard 8±1 seconds (for more on which, see HERE or Our Masters' Voices).

This looked less like the activists being less than enthusuastic in their response than a result of poor speech writing and poor delivery, aided and abetted by poor use of the Autocue.

Poor speech writing
Having set up the puzzle of what's the good and bad news, Osborne started with the key point - "we are in government" - and left the negative thought of the country being on the brink of bankruptcy to the end:

The good news is that we are in government after 13 years of a disastrous Labour administration that brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy.

Had he put the negative first and the positive second, the audience would have been ready to applaud as soon as he got to "we are in government" (and possibly even before that):

The good news is that, after 13 years of a disastrous Labour administration that brought our country to the brink of bankruptcy, we are in government.


Delivery and teleprompter troubles
You may also have noticed that two indicators that he'd come to the end of the sentence were missing.

There was little in the way of emphatic downward intonation on the final syllables. Add to that the fact that his eyes remained gazing up into the air rather than returning downwards to look at the script on the lectern (c.f. Mrs Thatcher HERE), and the uncertainty about whether or not he'd finished was amplified.

Later on, when it came to one of his best lines, the same problems messed up a neat piece of imagery (that provided a solution to the puzzle about what they'll say at the next election) - greeted by another delay and a meagre 5 seconds of applause:


Practical implications
If you watch the whole speech, you'll see numerous other examples of the same problems, which have two rather obvious implications:
  1. For teachers and students, it's a useful resource for analysing how and why things can go wrong in speeches.
  2. For George Osborne, his speech writers, speech coaches and anyone else trying to improve the performance of a client, it's a rich source of data on how and how not to speak effectively.

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