31 March 2010

Blair speaks and the BBC tells you what he said

Yet again, the producers and journalists of BBC Television News have demonstrated their superiority complex when it comes to covering important speeches, giving far greater coverage to their own mediated reportage than to the speech itself.

Last night's news that Tony Blair had made his first political speech since standing down as prime minister took up 188 seconds of the BBC 10 o'clock News - which seemed fair enough

Except for the fact that only 19% of the coverage (36 seconds) was of Blair actually speaking.

The other 81% was devoted to telling us what he said and/or what others thought about it.

Most important in all this, of course, was the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, who had more to say than Blair, Cameron and Clegg put together and managed to bag almost half the coverage (48%) for himself.

Does it matter that the BBC increasingly prevents us from hearing what our politicians have to say, preferring to give far more weight to its own reporters telling us what they said?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I think it does - for reasons touched on in some of the posts referred to below.

But am I alone in being irritated and worried by this kind of reportage?

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Related posts on UK media coverage (or lack of it) of speeches

30 March 2010

Vince Cable shows how 'Yah-boo politics' can win victories for the LibDems

I've just been watching last night's Channel 4 broadcast of the Chancellors' Debate, and was fascinated to see that Vince Cable was the only one of the three spokesmen who prompted applause from the audience during his closing statement (see transcript & video clip below).

A victory for 'Yah-boo' politics
It proved something I've always argued, namely that 'Yah-boo' politics works just as well for the LibDems as it does for the other main parties - in spite of the LibDems' long-standing 'holier than thou' claim to be the only party that doesn't lower itself to using 'Yah-boo' tactics.

During Paddy Ashdown's leadership of the party, I often found myself arguing against such an approach, for the simple reason that we knew that 84% of the bursts of applause in political speeches are triggered by two particular types of message (or a combination of the two):

Boasts about our side: 40%
Attacks or insults aimed at opponents: 34%
Combined boast + attack: 10%
(Our Masters' Voices, pp. 34-45).

So, if you're really serious about refraining from 'yah-boo' politics, you're voluntarily reducing your chances of winning applause by more than a third.

Liberal 'Yah-boo' moments from the past
This is not to say, of course, that the LibDems have always (or ever?) been consistent in practising what they preach when it comes to avoiding 'Yah-boo' politics.

After all, Vince Cable's most famous line during his temporary leadership of the party was his 'Yah-boo' remark about Gordon Brown becoming more like Mr Bean than Stalin.

More than 30 years ago, during the 1979 general election, Liberal leader David Steel was also not averse to it, as you can see from this neat example of how to use a puzzle with contrasting solution to say 'yah-b00' to both the other parties at the same time:

[PUZZLE] 'There are two Conservative parties in this election.
[SOLUTION]
[A] 'One is offering the continuation of the policies we've had for the last five years.
[B] 'And the other is offering a return to the policies of forty years ago.'
[APPLAUSE]

Cable's latest 'Yah-boo' moment
In his closing remarks at the end of last night's debate, Vince Cable again showed how to use this 'plague on both your houses' approach to craft a 'Yah-boo' sequence that wins a positive response from the audience.

As with the Steel example from 1979, it showed that a rhetorical advantage for LibDem politicians is that there is always plenty of scope for making simple contrasts between the two main parties - and, in this case, Cable adds to the rhetorical impact of that by listing three dreadful things that each of them is alleged to have done - all of which are offered as the start of a solution to the puzzle with which he opened the sequence.

Then, as he moves towards making a favourable contrast between the LibDem's and both the alternatives, he's interrupted by one of the evening's few bursts of applause:

[PUZZLE] 'The question is who can you trust to do it?

[SOLUTION]
[A1] 'The Labour government led us into this mess
[A2] 'they've done severe damage to pensions and savings
[A3] 'they've wasted a vast amount of money on over-centralised public services.

[B1] 'The Tories presided over two big recessions in office
[B2] 'they wasted most of the North Sea oil revenue
[B3] 'they sold off the family silver on the cheap

'Now they want to have another turn to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich backers.

'I- I - The Liberal Democrats are different..'

[APPLAUSE]

'.. the Liberal Democrats are different.'

video

23 March 2010

Budget eve message from Alistair Darling at the crossroads

Last year, I marked Budget day by posting the remarkable sequence from the early section of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech, in which he showed that even something as unpromising as banking could be developed into a powerful and extended metaphor (HERE).

This year, I thought I'd mark the occasion with a clip of some economists - the governor of the Bank of England, Nobel laureate Joseph Stigliz and former chief economist at Shell, Vince Cable - showing how to deploy imagery about bumpy roads, party-poopers, tail-spins and illnesses to talk about our recent economic woes.

But then I noticed that HM Treasury had just posted something a bit more topical on YouTube, namely a video of the Chancellor Exchequer not telling us very much about his plans for tomorrow's big day.

As only 139 people have viewed it so far*, this could well be your first chance to see it. Apparently, we're at 'something of a crossroads', the government can 'help unlock private sector investment' and 'our competitors are not standing still' - and that's your lot as far as Mr Darling's imagery is concerned.

And, if you're a bit hard of hearing, don't worry: we tax-payers have paid someone to transcribe it and insert sub-titles (which has also saved me quite a bit of time and effort).


We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see if he's got any more metaphors up his sleeve, not to mention whether he's going to 'turn left or right' at the crossroads.

Meanwhile, and to keep you going until then, here are some rather more uninhibited metaphors from the economists mentioned above:

video

* In the first hour since putting this post together, the number of YouTube views rose dramatically from 139 to 223 - which really makes you appreciate the commendable value for money that HM Treasury is getting from our taxes.

** P.S. A comment added by 'headless' makes the interesting point that whoever posted this video - presumably the Treasury - made it impossible for anyone to rate or make a comment on it!

22 March 2010

The swinging ball of death: another example of using objects as visual aids

This is the latest in a series of posts on the effectiveness of using an object as a visual aid (for a selection of others, see the links below) and comes from one of the Royal Institution's Christmas lectures for children by Professor Chris Bishop.

Apart from the sheer entertainment value, at least three other points are worth noting.
  1. The eager excitement on the faces of the audience after he tells them he's going to let go of the steel ball.
  2. The way in which they are paying close enough attention to be able to join in the 'countdown' for the second two of the three numbers.
  3. How their focus on the swinging ball is so precise that they start clapping at exactly the moment at which the ball reaches its closest point to the professor's forehead.

20 March 2010

Media News: a decision is not going to be made

Our local newspaper, The Wells Journal, occasionally comes up with such breath-taking headlines or stories that they cry out to be shared with a wider audience, as when it told us that a council official was about to walk along path that doesn't exist, or when one of its pre-Christmas headlines warned of a 'Busy time for postal workers' (HERE).

This week's Journal excels itself with the lead headline and opening lines of its front page story about something that's not going to happen and a meeting that's not going to take place - pushing news of a local murder trial (very rare around here, thankfully) on to an inside page:

City kept waiting for news about store
A decision on which site in Wells will be used for a new supermarket will not be made this week. Mendip District Council has decided to postpone a debate and decision on a new supermarket after a last minute application by the Morrisons chain...

READ MORE and/or keep up with the latest from the Wells Journal (?) HERE.

17 March 2010

Using 'clap on the name' to introduce or commend someone

This is a sequel to yesterday's post on How NOT to introduce a speaker, and shows some more examples of the 'clap on the name technique' in action.

In the first one, Michael Parkinson is introducing the next guest on his chat show.

(1) Identify or hint at the person's identity:
".. her latest film, 'In the Cut', is dark and erotic."

(2) Say a few words about him/her:
"She’s a writer who becomes involved with a detective investigating a serial killer. Ladies and Gentlemen"

(3) Name him/her:
"Meg Ryan" [Applause/cheers].

video

The second example shows how the 'clap on the name' technique doesn't just work for introductions, but is also just as effective when you're congratulating or commending someone.

In this clip, Barack Obama is commending John Kerry at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

(1) Identify or hint at the person's identity:
"Our party has chosen a man to lead us"

(2) Say a few words about him/her:
"who embodies the best this country has to offer, and that man is"

(3) Name him/her:
"John Kerry" [Applause/cheers].

video

16 March 2010

How NOT to introduce a speaker

About 20 seconds into this clip from the Liberal Democrats' Spring conference at the weekend, you'll see a fine example of how not to do an introduction.

Clap on the name
As far as the structure of the sequence is concerned, it's a reasonable example of how to use the 'clap on the name' technique to elicit applause (for more on which, see my books):

(1) Identify or hint at the identity of who's being introduced
(2) Say a few words about him/her
(3) Name him/her [Audience applauds]

Be positive and confident about who it is
But it really isn't a very good idea to spend stages (1) and (2) raising questions or doubts about the person you're introducing, or to sound less than 100% sure who it is.

Normally, the 'clap on the name' technique works so that the audience is able to come in before you get to the end of saying the person's name - which has the added advantage of making it sound as though they're all so pleased to see him/her that they can't wait until you've finished to start clapping.

But, in this case there's a delay of a whole second before the applause gets under way - which was almost certainly prompted by the hesitancy shown in leading up to the announcement of his name (and/or possibly even because the audience was still mulling over the controversial implications of the first sentence):

CHAIR: "I'd like to introduce you conference to probably one of the very few MPs in British politics at the moment who is genuinely trusted by the British public (What? - 1: Is he only 'probably' one of them, 2: Are there only 'very few' of them, and 3: Where does that leave all the other LibDem MPs?).

"Its - the - shadow - Treasury - uh - shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer rather (What?Doesn't she know who their most famous MP is or what his job title is?), Vince Cable."


Clips showing Michael Parkinson and Barack Obama using the same technique rather more effectively than this can be seen HERE.

15 March 2010

Brown may plan to 'keep going' but Mrs Thatcher never said she'd go 'on and on and on'

Yet again, something said in an interview, has landed a politician in a bit of trouble - providing further support for my 'snakes and ladders theory of political communication'.

Gordon Brown's announcement on Woman's Hour that he intends to "keep going" even if he loses the election has, not surprisingly, prompted commentators like Iain Dale to hark back to an interview in the 1987 general election when Mrs Thatcher is alleged to have said that she intended to go "on and on and on".

I say 'alleged to have said', because she never actually said it: what she actually said was "I hope to go on and on" - which, as you'll see, became a headline on BBC Television News:

video

Thatcher's snake gives Kinnock a ladder
This is not, of course, the only example of a famous quotation being expanded (or contracted) into a three part list - one of the most famous contractions being Churchill's "blood, sweat, toil and tears", which is most frequently quoted as "blood, sweat and tears."

If Thatcher's "on and on" was a nice example of how interviews are the snakes in the game of snakes and ladders (by generating negative headlines for the interviewee), Neil Kinnock was quick to use it to jump on a ladder in a speech (ladder because speeches are more likely to work in the speaker's favour). In this case, he contrasted two repetitive lists of three:

video

Thatcher adopts 'on and on and on'
By the time the Conservatives came to launch their 1987 election manifesto, 'on and on and on' had been so widely publicised in the media that even Mrs Thatcher felt able to use the revised 3 part phrase in a slightly different and light-hearted context:

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MORE ON THE 'SNAKES & LADDERS THEORY OF POLITICAL COMMUNICATION:

13 March 2010

Nick Clegg defies Rory Bremner (and me)

More than 30 years have gone by since I first started recording political speeches (during the 1979 general election).

In the meantime, Labour and the Conservatives have each had six leaders (Callaghan, Foot, Kinnock, Smith, Blair & Brown/ Thatcher, Major, Hague, Duncan Smith, Howard and Cameron) and the Liberals/Lib Dems have had five (Steel, Ashdown, Kennedy, Campbell and Clegg).

Over the years, I've written and/or spoken about most of them and worked closely with one of them. In fact, at any point during the last three decades, I could usually come up with some pithy observationally-based points about 16 of these 17 leaders. The one exception, with whom I'm still struggling, is Nick Clegg.

'Definitely OK, absolutely fine, without any doubt not bad'
After Mr Clegg's last annual conference speech, I was sufficiently struck by the above comment from Phil Collins, former Blair speechwriter and Times journalist, that I lifted it for the title of that day's post.

I was also struck by the way other commentators had concentrated on his teleprompter-dependent 'walk-about' style of delivery. But so far, all I've been able to come up with about his speaking is what I said at the end of that post:

'If I were advising him, I'd get him to have a go at speaking from a lectern to see if it helped him to lift his performance beyond 'OK' and 'not bad'.

Nor do I seem to be alone
As I haven't been actively involved in LibDem politics since Paddy Ashdown stepped down as leader in 1999, I was pleased to have the chance to mingle with dozens of local party members a few weeks ago - as I was able to ask quite a lot of them what they thought of their leader.

What really surprised me was that not one of them spoke enthusiastically about him. Quite a few regretted that Chris Huhne hadn't won the leadership. Several spoke warmly about the good old days of Ashdown and Kennedy. One came up with a rather negative story about face-to-face encounters she'd had with Mr Clegg. Another even said that it would have been better if one of their Euro MPs had become leader!

In short, if the reactions of these party members were anything to go by, Phil Collins had got it about right with 'Definitely OK, absolutely fine, without any doubt not bad.'

The bland leading the bland?
Since then, it's emerged that the country's top impersonator, Rory Bremner - from whom I've lifted this sub-heading - seems to have been having similar problems to mine in coming up with an angle on Mr Clegg (plus quite a few other current politicians). And, as regular readers of this blog may know, I'm a great admirer of the analytic skills of impersonators - for more on which, see my earlier post on Mike Yarwood.

Is it significant, I wonder, that I was put on to this story by a Twitter tweet from the Liberal Democrat Voice blog posted by Mark Pack, a leading LibDem Blogger?

For those who didn't see it, here's some of what Rory Bremner had to say on the subject in yesterday's Birmingham Mail:

"I struggle with David Cameron, but I find Clegg particularly difficult to master ... I imagined meeting him at the party and him asking 'Can you do me?' I was going to say 'No, can you?' I don't think my life would be significantly poorer if I don't impersonate Nick Clegg. I think life is short enough without sitting up night after night listening to tapes of him and George Osborne.

Professionally speaking I want characters to win the election, but sadly we are probably going to lose a generation of people like David Blunkett and John Prescott. I have no handle on the new generation of MPs ... We have the bland leading the bland."

Who'll be watching Clegg's conference speech tomorrow?
On this evidence, it looks as though Mr Bremner won't be watching Mr Clegg's keynote speech at the LibDem Spring Conference tomorrow.

As for me, I've become so fascinated by our respective failures to get a handle on him that I'll probably watch and record it. As for whether or not I manage to come up with anything of interest, watch this space.

(And, if you have any observations, suggestions or ideas on the subject, I'd very much like to hear from you).

12 March 2010

Sales, showbiz and speaking

This post was prompted by an invitation from Angela DeFinis to contribute to her 'blog carnival' on the theme: 'The Impact of Public Speaking on Top Sales Performance'.

I've sometimes been mystified by the willingness of large companies to squander huge amounts of money on sales events without bothering to spend a little extra on preparing key speakers to make the most of such occasions.

One of the most extreme examples of this came at the UK launch of some major new products by a famous American multi-national corporation.

SALES BY SHOWBIZ
They had hired one of the country's best-known radio and television presenter (daily rate: £15,000.00) to chair a discussion with their directors from the stage of one of London's West End theatres (daily rate: £ quite a lot) - from where 'the show' was transmitted live to several more theatres around the UK for others to see on cinema screens (daily rate: £ quite a lot more).

They had also hired me (daily rate: £ very little) to go to one of these distant venues and report back on how it came across to the local audience.

All went well until just before the coffee break, when the TV presenter introduced the company's marketing director to say a few words to bring the first session to a close.

The director was suddenly beamed up from his seat on the stage to appear the screen, where he'd been filmed on a balcony above the factory floor where we could see the new products being assembled in the background.

With his eyes glued to a teleprompter, and an expression on his face serious enough for a funeral oration, he spoke in a flat and regular monotone that sounded like an audition for the the voice-over part of a speaking robot in a science fiction movie.

The verbatim transcript of his final 'few words' went as follows:

"... I hope you're all as excited by these new products as I am."

AUDIENCE ENTERTAINMENT?
The 400+ viewers in the theatre where I saw it exploded into a collective and extended fit of laughter, before adjourning for coffee in a thoroughly jovial mood.

Although I'd be the first to admit that humour can be a powerful weapon in the armoury of public speakers, I don't think this kind of hilarity was quite what the company had in mind for this particular point in the proceedings.

Luckily for me, it made the job of writing the report they were paying me to write that much easier, as I was able to make the very obvious point that, if your directors are going to say that they're excited about something, it's worth spending a few extra pounds on getting someone (e.g. me) to train them to sound as though they really are excited.

WHY 'HA-HA-HA'?
As for why the audience laughter went "Ha-ha-ha", rather than other options like "Ho-ho-ho"or "He-he-he", it was almost certainly because they were latching on two of the last three vowel sounds in the marketing director's final words - i.e. the 'a' sounds in "..as I am" - for more on which, see HERE.

Or, for more on the subject, you can download the original paper by Gail Jefferson - ‘On the Poetics of Ordinary Talk’, Text and Performance Quarterly, 1996, 16(1), 1-61 - by clicking HERE).

9 March 2010

Murder most foul: story-telling in conversation

When sorting through old videotapes, I sometimes stumble across something speaker-related that prompts a post that's relevant to the main themes of this blog.

But today's clip is a bit different on two counts: it's not only the first time I've posted a clip featuring any of my relations, but also comes from the oldest speaker yet posted on the blog.

In 1981, my brother held a party to celebrate the 1ooth birthday of our paternal grandfather (who lived on for another five years after that). When most of the guests had gone, the camcorder was left running with a view to picking up some 'oral history' about the family and how farming had changed since he'd left school to work full time on the land in 1893.

MURDER?
By far the most startling revelation came when he launched into a story about a neighbouring farmer who, according to him, had murdered his brother (in an incident we later discovered had been passed off as a shooting accident).

Although it came at the end of a party, you shouldn't think that his narrative was influenced in any way by drink (other than tea). In fact, he used to boast that he hadn't been in a pub since 1898 - and hadn't drunk any alcohol then (or since). And on this occasion, in line with our childhood training, any evidence of domestic alcohol and tobacco consumption had been hidden away before he came anywhere near the house.

STORIES TAKE MORE THAN ONE TURN TO DELIVER
Anyone interested in conversation analysis will note that it's a fine example of an early observation by the late great Harvey Sacks about the way story-telling works in conversation, namely that stories take more than one turn to deliver.

So, before getting down to telling his story, JA prefaces it by giving us notice to expect an extended sequence of talk from him on the same topic ("I can tell you something else about ...") - after which DA's turns punctuate the story with regular 'continuers' (e.g. Yes) and occasional understanding checks (e.g. questions).

It's also interesting to see how, even at such a great age, a speaker still conforms to and can perform pretty well within the basic constraints of turn-taking.

To make this gripping tale easier to follow, there's an approximate transcript below.

video

TRANSCRIPT:
JA: I can tell you something else about -uh - that farm that joins - does it join you?
DA: Yes
JA: what we called Mollets
DA: Yes, Mollets.
JA: The brothers fell out.
DA: Yes.
JA: And one brother killed the other - and the inspector went to see this farm.
DA: Yes.
JA: Because he'd said it about - that he'd killed him or he had died
DA: Yes.
JA: And do you know what the farmer said when he said to him about it?
DA: What?
JA: "I saw him do it!'
DA: (laughs): He saw him do it himself?
JA: No - his brother killed his brother.
DA: Yes, but he reckoned he'd killed himself?"
JA: (Aye) I don't know what the inspector or whoever he was who went to see him - but he'd be somebody but (????) if he shut up then, wouldn't he?
DA: (laughs)
JA: And they got over it some way or another but I never knew how - at least if I did I've forgot - but (?I haven't?) forgot that he did it - You see his brother - I think - him 'at got killed was the eldest. Well t'next man he was more of a gentleman, you see, he- this first one - worked - and he liked riding about on a horse.
DA: Yes
JA: And he thought I expect that he was a bit (of a waster) - and he would -uh - boss's brother - thats how the tale was when I was young.
DA: (Aye)
JA: But I never forgot it - never shall do.
(Background noise)
JA: (???) from Monk Fryston station to that farm - and he used to - this brother that he killed, he liked drink you see - he used to call at t'pub for a pint I expect - or else something else that he drank - but (?it was easy?) in them days - aye...

7 March 2010

How to prepare a televised speech, Part (3): clothes, voice, face & furnishings

This video clip completes the series celebrating the 30th anniversary of the BBC's classic sit-com Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister, the first programme of which was broadcast on on 25th February, 1980.

If ever there was a programme that matched up to all three of the objectives enshrined in the Royal Charter of the BBC - 'to inform, educate and entertain' - this was surely it.

RELATED VIDEO CLIPS:
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6 March 2010

Someone else has noticed the obsession with graphics on BBC news programmes

Today's 'World Book Day' feature in The Times Review section invited sundry celebrities and authors to recommend 'One to give' to someone else.

Any disappointment I might have had that no one mentioned any of my books quickly turned into delight when I saw that I may have a supporter in my campaign against the BBC's obsession with graphics and PowerPoint style presentations in their news programmes.

At least, that's what novelist Philip Pullman seems to be referring to in the highlighted section of his contribution below. And, as I agree with pretty much everything else in his Saturday morning rant, I thought it worth reproducing in full:

PHILIP PULLMAN: ONE TO GIVE
This is a book that doesn’t yet exist. It would describe in great detail the profound irritation, often amounting to rage, generated by films made with shaky hand-held cameras, by the over-use of “dramatic” close-ups, by background music under speech, by incessant background music generally, by TV news programmes that think it will be clever to illustrate every image in a news report (“The wheels have come off the Chancellor’s Budget plans” — so we have to see some wheels. Newsnight is the worst offender here), by the jump-cuts and smash-cuts in action films — often several per second — that substitute rapid movement of the point of view for meaningful action, by “unusual” camera angles that show what the scene would look like to a fly on the ceiling or a mouse on the floor to no narrative purpose whatsoever. I’d give this book to every producer or director whose work has annoyed the hell out of me.

And, while I’m at it, I’d give a similar book to every novelist who resorts unnecessarily to the present tense*. It’s a simpering, wincing, arch, fey, kittenish sort of affectation that ought to be stamped on firmly
(my emphasis & asterisk).

(* To which I would add the rise of history in the present tense, which seems to have become the norm in programmes like Melvin Bragg's In Our Time on BBC Radio 4, not to mention the 'open-mouthed school of acting').

BBC Radio 5 Live interview on the TV election debates

I would normally be far too modest to post a clip of myself appearing on a radio show (?). But Jason Blackwell asked me via Twitter if I could make the BBC Radio 5 Live interview I did a few days ago available for people like him who are based in the USA.

Luckily for him, Martin Shovel, to whom thanks for taking the time and trouble, made a copy of it and sent it to me as 'possible blog fodder' - which has now proved too big a temptation for me to resist.

As you'll hear, I'm still sceptical about how the organisers of the 'debates' think they're going to police the rules they've agreed - for more on which, see my earlier post on TV Debate Claptrap: a Warning to those cooking up rules for the leaders' election debates.

Talking about the risks politicians face in walking the tightrope of interviews and Q-A television programmes, I also mentioned Mrs Thatcher's comment about people who 'drool and drivel that they care' just before the 1987 general election, a video clip of which can be viewed HERE.

video

4 March 2010

Michael Foot's memorable oratory

For me, news of the death of former Labour Party leader Michael Foot brought back memories of the days when I was doing research for my book Our Masters' Voices, which included a section comparing the speaking effectiveness of him and Mrs Thatcher during the 1983 general election.

In those days, British television companies still showed quite a lot of speeches on their news programmes and it had been easy enough to collect examples of Mrs Thatcher using the main rhetorical techniques and video clips of her being applauded by enthusiastic supporters.

But, although Michael Foot had a reputation for being a very effective orator, it was almost impossible to find any comparable video clips of him using the same techniques, let alone receiving much in the way of applause. In fact, in some of the clips discussed in my book, he'd come across as uncharacteristically stumbling and long-winded.

A style that failed to meet the demands of the media
The problem was that Mr Foot was at his best when speaking without a script. But, early in the 1983 campaign, the media had started to complain that there was too much of a gap between the advance press releases of his speeches and what he actually said from the platform. To make life easier for reporters, he took to reading out the text of the pre-released speeches word for word - a style of delivery with which he was quite unfamiliar.

To make matters worse, Michael Foot didn't have very good eyesight - and no one in the Labour Party had thought of equipping him with a teleprompter. As a result, he spent most of his time glued to his scripts, hardly ever looking up at the audience and his delivery was much more hesitant than when he was free to speak without a text.

The day his advisors ignored a free tip
At some stage, his advisors must have become worried enough about how he was coming across for one of them phone me asking for help. When I asked what kind of fee they had in mind, I was told that they assumed I was a Labour supporter who would be happy to do it for nothing.

When I refused, the voice the other end of the phone pressed me further "But surely you could just give us at least one tip without us having to pay anything?"

"OK" I said "tell him to get some rimless spectacles."

The reason was that Mr Foot used to wear very thick horn-rimmed glasses, which made his eyes almost invisible to viewers (for more on which, see earlier posts on President Zuma's dark glasses and Tony Benn's hypnotic eyes), especially when he was looking down at a script.

But they knew best, and Micael Foot's stumbling campaign carried on unchanged - not that I'd be foolish enough to claim that my generous advice, however accurate it may have been, could have saved him or his party from the disastrous result that followed.

2 March 2010

How to prepare a televised speech, Part (2): script, statistics & teleprompter timing

Last week, I posted a couple of video clips to mark the 30th anniversary of the BBC comedy series Yes Minister/Yes Prime Minister (HERE & HERE).

This is the second in the series of three on how Jim Hacker was coached to make a televised speech:

video

1 March 2010

St. Dave's Day competition (Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Sant cystadleuaeth)

As St David's Day has fallen on the day after David Cameron's speech at the Conservative Party Spring Forum, what better way to mark the occasion than with a competition?

Since first watching the clip posted yesterday (see below) illustrating the risks a speaker runs in having members of the audience sitting behind him, I've noticed something else - namely that Kenneth Clarke not only fails to nod in agreement when William Hague and others do, but is also the only member of the shadow cabinet who doesn't bother to get his hands apart and join in the delayed burst of applause.

Whether or not there's any significance in this, I have no idea, but I do know that not applauding can be an accountable matter that has been known to result in a politician being interrogated about it - as when Peter Snow 'merely observed' that Francis Pym had not been clapping vigorously enough during a conference speech by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Geoffrey Howe (HERE).

THE CHALLENGE:
Competitors are invited to watch the whole of yesterday's speech by David Cameron's - which can be seen HERE - and then follow Peter Snow's example by seeing if there's anything else you can 'merely observe' about the behavior and/or facial expressions of those in the audience sitting behind him.

Your observation(s) may be entered in the blog comments section and/or emailed directly to me (via the link in 'My complete profile' on the top left of this page).

THE PRIZE:
The author of the best entry received before 31 March will be awarded a signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears.

THE TRAILER: