25 February 2011

The target audience for a perfect Oscar winner's speech

In the run-up to the Academy Awards a few years ago, a Sky TV publicist asked me to have a go at writing 'the perfect Oscar acceptance speech'.

My initial reaction was that it had already been done - by Alfred Hitchcock, who, on being awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Award in 1967, went up to the microphone, said "Thank you" and walked off the stage.

I also knew that I couldn't compete with the brilliant advice to winners offered by Paul Hogan in his Oscars warm-up act in 1986 (video clip HERE, followed by a memorable tour de force from Kate Winslet).

Who's my audience?
As I say in my books, the first step in preparing a speech or presentation is to analyse the audience.

But one thing that stuck me on reviewing some of the horrors of the past was that, in so far as winners have any audience in mind, it's a rather small and narrow in-crowd. Sometimes their endless lists of names are aimed at their relations, sometimes at film industry insiders - who, unlike most of the millions watching at home, have presumably heard of some of those who get a mention.

So I decided that it would make a change if a winner actually addressed and thanked the fee-paying audiences, whose hard-earned cash decides which films succeed at the box-office - i.e. the millions of (or, according to Paul Hogan, billion) viewers watching the Oscar ceremony on television, rather than the few thousand celebrities who happen to be in the audience.

The most important audience of all?
I wouldn't say that what I came up with was 'the perfect Oscar acceptance speech', but at least it was reasonably short, started with a touch of modesty and ended by paying tribute to the most important audience of all:

Being nominated for an Oscar is a bit like being told that Father Christmas might possibly bring you a present – but you mustn’t get too excited because the odds are that he’ll give it to someone else.

So when I heard my name read out, I was struck by a mixture of shock and disbelief. At my age I didn’t expect to learn that there really is a Father Christmas after all.

So thank you to the Academy for making a dream come true.

Thank you to everyone involved in (insert name of movie). This (holds up Oscar) is as much for you as it is for me. Because without such a rich pool of talent, there’d have been no dream, no nomination and no award.

And thank you to the real stars in our universe – the millions on the other side of the screen who pay to see our movies. You are the ones who keep the heart of our industry beating. And without you, none ofus would be here tonight.

So from all of us to all of you, thank you for letting us carry on doing what we love doing best.


On second thoughts
However, if the audience that really matters is made up of the millions watching at home, incoherent emotional outbursts can be far more entertaining than a half-decent speech - a point well understood by Paul Hogan in what was arguably even more impressive than Alfred Hitchcock's exemplary performance 20 years earlier:


P.S. Since I posted this earlier today, Alan Stevens has announced an Oscar Acceptance Speech Competition on his blog - so why not visit The Media Coach Report and take up the challenge?

21 February 2011

Defend a doomed dictator speechwriting competition

Bizarre speeches in defence of doomed dictatorships are forming a curious backdrop to the wind of change now blowing across North Africa and the Middle East.

As I've already pointed out (HERE), an ability to speak effectively to a mass audience isn't a necessary job qualification for an autocrat, whether hereditary or self-appointed.

So it's not particularly surprising that the best efforts of Mubarak, Gadaffi Junior and the crown prince of Bahrain have either done, or will eventually be shown by history to have done, them more harm than good.

This raises the interesting question of whether a good speechwriter could do (0r could have done) anything to save them - and has prompted this competition.

Your challenge:
Either Write a short speech for the past or present dictator of your choice (or one of his relations) that would clear their streets of protesters and put a stop to their unreasonable behaviour once and for all.

Or Rewrite (and shorten) one of the speeches already given so that it would have cleared their streets of protesters and put a stop to their unreasonable behaviour once and for all.

Or - Twitter challenge: Since news of the competition was first posted, there have been a number of imaginative tweets of sound bites from such a speech. I've therefore decided to create a special class for 140 character Twitter entries (for which the 1st prize will be a signed copy of the shortest book I've ever written).

Deadline: 28th February 2011

Main Prize: Winning entry will be posted on this blog, and its author rewarded with a free copy of Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations, signed by the author.

Twitter Prize: Signed copy of Speech-making and Presentation Made Easy.

Dr Gadaffi comes to the rescue with a real 'tour de force'

Unfortunately, The most extraordinary speech I've ever seen (posted last September) is 'no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement' - P.S. Thanks to one of the comments below, an alternative version of the same speech is available again via Huffington Post.

Let's hope that the same doesn't happen to this gem from Saif Gadaffi (Ph.D, London School of Economics), as it's a serious competitor for my most extraordinary speech I've ever seen award. It also provides yet further evidence that dictators and their families don't have bother about being effective speakers, for more on which, see You don't need to speak Arabic to tell that Mubarak isn't much of an orator.

For one brief moment - when he tells us "There are three parts behind this" - it looks as though he might have got the hang of three-part lists. However, if this was intended as a preface to the structure of what's to come, it's a structure that quickly disintegrates in the garbled ramblings that follow (full transcript below).

Whether or not this was a subtle way of foreshadowing the speedy disintegration of the power structure presided over by the Gadaffi gang, we shall have to wait and see.

P.S. Now you can all join the challenge:





Full text of Saif Gadaffi’s speech, as Transcribed and tweeted live by @SultanAlQassemi, February 20, 2011

I saw that I had to speak to you. Many Libyans asked me to speak. I don’t have a paper or a document to read from.I will not speak in classical Arabic, I will speak in Libyan, I don’t have any papers, this is a talk from the heart & mind. We all know that the region is passing through an earthquake, a hurricane or change. If this change does not come from the govts it will come from the people, we have seen this in other Arab countries. Today I will tell you only truth only. We know that there are opposition figures living abroad who have support in Libya. There people try to use Facebook for a revolution to copy Egypt. These people want to bring Libya to what happened in Egypt & Tunisia. We saw this on facebook and on emails. The country did a pre-emptive move by arresting some people before the protests, shots were fired, people died. The anger was directed at the police in Benghazi. People wanted to storm the police stations, people died, funerals occurred. This is a summary of what happened in Bengazi, now there is a major Fitna and a threat to the unity of Libya. Of course there were many deaths, which angered many people in Benghazi, but why were there people killed? The army was under stress, it is not used to crowd control so they shot, but I called them. The army said that some protesters were drunk, others were on hallucinogens or drugs. The army has to defend its weapons. And the people were angry. So there were deaths, but in the end Libyans were killed.

There are thee parts behind this

1- Political Activists whom we agree with,
2- What happened in Bayda are Islamic elements. Bayda is my town, my mother is from there. People called me. They stole weapons and killed soldiers. They want to establish an Islamic Emirate in Bayda. Some people took drugs & were used by these protesters.
3. The third part are these children who took the drugs and were used. These are facts like it or not.

We have arrested tens of Arabs and Africans, poor people, millions were spent on them to use them by millionaire businessmen. There are people who want to establish a countries in parts of Libya to rule, Like the Islamic Emirate. One person said he is the Emir of Islamic Emirate of Darna. The Arabic Media is manipulating these events. This Arabic media is owned by Arabs who are distorting the facts but also our media failed to cover the events.

Then there are the Baltagiya who destroyed public property, they fled jails. There are our brothers who sit and drink coffee and watch TV and laugh at us when they see us burn our country.

It is no lie that the protesters are in control of the streets now. Libya is not Tunis or Egypt. Libya is different, if there was disturbance it will split to several states. It was three states before 60 years. Libya are Tribes not like Egypt. There are no political parties, it is made of tribes. Everyone knows each other. We will have a civil war like in 1936. American Oil Companies played a big part in unifying Libya. Who will manage this oil? How will we divide this oil amongst us? Who will spend on our hospitals? All this oil will be burnt by the Baltagiya (Thugs) they will burn it. There are no people there. 3/4s of our people live in the East in Benghazi, there is no oil there, who will spend on them? Your children will not go to schools or universities. There will be chaos, we will have to leave Libya if we can’t share oil. Everyone wants to become a Sheikh and an Emir, we are not Egypt or Tunisia so we are in front of a major challenge.

We all now have arms. At this time drunks are driving tanks in central Benghazi. So we all now have weapons. The powers who want to destroy Libya have weapons. There will be a war & no future. All the firms will leave, we have 500 housing units being built, they won’t be completed. Remember my words. 200 billion dollars of projects are now underway, they won’t be finished.

You can say we want democracy & rights, we can talk about it, we should have talked about it before. It’s this or war. Instead of crying over 200 deaths we will cry over 100,000s of deaths. You will all leave Libya, there will be nothing here. There will be no bread in Libya, it will be more expensive than gold.

Before we let weapons come between us, from tomorrow, in 48 hours, we will call or a new conference for new laws. We will call for new media laws, civil rights, lift the stupid punishments, we will have a constitution. Even the LEader Gaddafi said he wants a constitution. We can even have autonomous rule, with limited central govt powers. Brothers there are 200 billion dollars of projects at stake now. We will agree to all these issues immediately. We will then be able to keep our country, unlike our neighbors. We will do that without the problems of Egypt & Tunisia who are now suffering. There is no tourism there. We will have a new Libya, new flag, new anthem. Or else, be ready to start a civil war and chaos and forget oil and petrol.

What is happening in Bayda and Benghazi is very sad. How do you who live in Benghazi, will you visit Tripoli with a visa? The country will be divided like North and South Korea we will see each other through a fence. You will wait in line for months for a visa. If we don’t do the first scenario be ready for the second scenario:

The British FM called me. Be ready for a new colonial period from American and Britain. ou think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete? The West will come and occupy you. Europe & the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to export chaos and drugs so they will occupy us.

In any case, I have spoken to you, we uncovered cells from Egypt and Tunisia and Arabs. The Libyans who live in Europe and USA, their children go to school and they want you to fight. They are comfortable. They then want to come and rule us and Libya. They want us to kill each other then come, like in Iraq. The Tunisians and Egyptians who are here also have weapons, they want to divide Libya and take over the country.

We are in front of two choices, we can reform now, this is an historic moment, without it there will be nothing for decades. You will see worse than Yugoslavia if we don’t choose the first option. Gaddafi is not Mubarak or Ben Ali, a classical ruler, he is a leader of a people. 10,000s of Libyans are coming to defend him. Over coastline Libyans are coming to support Gaddafi. The army is also there, it will play a big part whatever the cost. The army will play a big role, it is not the army of Tunisia or Egypt. It will support Gaddafi to the last minute. Now in the Green Square people shoot so that they show the world that the army is shooting. We must be awake.

Now comes the role of the National Guard and the Army, we will not lose one inch of this land. 60 years ago they defended Libya from the colonialists, now they will defend it from drug addicts. Most of he Libyans are intelligent, they are not Baltagiya (thugs) Benghazi is a million and a half not the few thousands who are in the streets. We will flight to the last man and woman and bullet. We will not lose Libya. We will not let Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and BBC trick us.

We will live in Libya and die in Libya. (Ends)

20 February 2011

Cameron's objections to AV make a powerful case for a more proportional system than AV

Andrew Rawnsley has an interesting article in today's Observer that's well worth reading as we approach the forthcoming referendum on electoral reform.

Under the headline The cynical enemies of electoral reform think we're stupid. Those against the alternative vote believe they can persuade the British that we are too dim to count up to three, comes a confession from Rawnsley:

'I belong to that tragically nerdish minority who are fascinated by electoral systems and think they can make a significant difference to the quality of politics and governance. Perhaps you too are a member of this small club of saddos who enjoy teasing out the rival merits and demerits of the single transferable vote versus the additional member system.'

My answer is that I am indeed another saddo member of this 'tragically nerdish minorty'.

I also agree that David Cameron' speech launching the 'No' campaign 'was not among his best' as well as with Rawnsley's conclusion:

'Does the campaign to keep first past the post think that most Britons are stupid? Yes. Not only that, they are relying on the stupid vote to win.'

For me, this attitude of the 'No' campaigners was summed up in the following sequence from the speech. Leaving aside the fact that Mr Cameron seems have hitherto un-noticed problems with English grammar - four sentences are apparently "less than a sentence" - there is something profoundly patronising about his advocacy of simplicity.

And I've always been baffled by the way Tory and Labour politicians are so obsessed with political turn-taking that they're quite happy to defend a status quo that can and often does leave them out of power for decades at a time.

video

If you join the 150 other nerds who've (so far) watched the speech on YouTube (below), you may, like me, come to the conclusion that Cameron's case against AV actually amounts to a rather powerful argument for a more proportional voting system than AV (e.g. STV) - in which case one wonders why he's bothering to oppose what could be a first serious step in that direction.


16 February 2011

Why does the BBC commemorate Richard Dimbleby with a televised lecture?

Last night's Richard Dimbleby Lecture on BBC 1 was delivered by Michael Morpurgo, the latest in a long and distinguished line of famous people to have done so every year (except four) since 1972 (full list HERE).

But what baffles me about this annual event is how and why the BBC ever decided that the most suitable memorial to a celebrated broadcaster would be something as ill-suited to television as a lecture.

Wouldn't an annual Dimbleby Documentary, Dimbleby Debate or Dimbleby Interview have been a more fitting way to remember a current affairs journalist? After all, these were not only the kinds of things he was best known for, but would have come across better on television than celebrities, many of whom have little or no experience of lecturing, standing behind a lectern and talking for rather a long time.

Given the BBC's increasing reluctance to show even very short extracts from political speeches in their news programmes (on which there's more discussion and links HERE and HERE), it strikes me as rather odd that the Dimbleby lecture has been allowed to carry on in its original format.

So far, I've been unable to find out anything about why the BBC (or who) decided in the first place that a lecture would be the best way to commemorate his life - and would be interested to hear from anyone who knows something about its history.

10 February 2011

What could/should be done about Oxbridge in a deal on tuition fees?

Yesterday, there was much comment about how Oxford and Cambridge universities should jolly well make more effort to admit more students from more disadvantaged backgrounds if they're going to charge £9,000 in tuition fees.

But what can be done, what difference could it make and how likely would they be to do anything that radically changed the ways they've always done things?

As a start to answering these questions, here are some true stories from the chalk face to show that it's (a) quite possible to bias an admissions system without causing any decline in the standard of degree results and (b) unlikely to happen at Oxbridge until or unless change is imposed upon them.

No correlation between A level and degree results
In the early 1970s, I was a departmental admissions tutor at one of the post-Robbins new universities. As I hadn't a clue how to do the job - and there was little or no advice to be had from anyone else - I thought I'd better do some research into the subject.

To my surprise, I found that educational researchers at the time had been unable to find any statistically significant correlation between high grades at GCE 'O' and 'A' level and high class degrees (defined as 2:1 and above). Nor did it make any difference what subjects were taken or which university was attended - with one notable and intriguing exception.

The Joint Matriculation Board (formerly Northern Universities) used to run an 'A' level paper in 'general studies', which many admissions tutors mistakenly thought was far too general to be worth counting in deciding whether or not to offer an applicant a place - mistaken because the JMB general paper was the only 'A' level subject that actually did correlate strongly with eventual degree performance: i.e. a good pass at that was a strong predictor of a class 2:1 or 1st class degree (regardless of degree subject).

These findings were, I learnt, widely known among other admissions tutors but, as far as I could tell, were not taken into account in the way they approached the job.

An admissions system with a bias against the privileged
So I set about creating an admissions procedure for our department with a deliberately built-in bias towards applicants from under-privileged backgrounds. After all, if good good GCE results were unreliable predictors of good degree performances, what was the point of placing so much weight on them? And if the JMB general paper was a good predictor, why didn't we place more weight on that?

So I devised a points system, the full details of which escape me 40 years later. But I do remember that part of it involved awarding different scores to applicants from different types of schools - that went roughly as follows:

Fee-paying school: 0
Direct-grant grammar school: 1
State grammar school: 2
Comprehensive school: 3
Secondary modern school: 4
Local technical college: 4

The more points a candidate scored on this (and various other scales), the more likely he or she would be to get an offer of a place.

Reaction?
Left-wing colleagues around the university were very positive about it and some even tried to get their own departments to model their own admissions procedures on ours. That may have been predictable enough, but what was more surprising was that it wasn't unanimously dismissed by more conservative elements on the staff.

One keen Tory, who happened to be head of the admissions department in the university's central administration, loved it and tried to persuade other departments to do something similar. He saw it as being efficient and rational - so efficient and rational (and this was probably why he liked it so much), that he could issue my score card to his assistants and delegate them to do the job for us - which they were able to do much more quickly than when processing UCCA forms from other departments.

Degree results?
As far as I know, degree results achieved by those admitted to our department by this overtly slanted admissions procedure were no worse than they would otherwise have been.

And, in retrospect, I have only one regret - about the applicant who scored so highly on my score card that I made him a very low conditional offer (2 E grade 'A' level passes). His headmaster was furious, and phoned me up to complain that the boy had the potential to get into Oxbridge and it was disgraceful that I was not only tempting him not to carry on working for his 'A' levels (which he didn't) but was also trying to entice him away to one of these jumped-up new universities.

Although the boy went on to get a 1st class honours degree and eventually became a university professor, I still have a slight sense of guilt. As we all know (and knew then), there are certain career advantages in having an Oxbridge degree - and I still worry that I may have restricted the opportunities he might have had if I hadn't worked so hard to get him to accept our ridiculously attractive offer.

Why Oxbridge is unlikely to do likewise
Later on, my last full-time academic job was as a fellow of an Oxford college. Although it only catered for post-graduate students, I had colleagues and friends who were fellows of undergraduate colleges and who were actively involved in the admissions process.

1. The case of the middle-class Marxist
On one occasion, I went to a meeting attended by a rather famous left-wing intellectual, who certainly supported the admission of students from a much wider range of backgrounds - at least in principle.

He'd just spent the morning interviewing applicants for places in his college and arrived complaining about how difficult and frustrating he was finding it all:

"However much I want to accept students from state schools, the problem is that the ones from public school come across so much better - and it wouldn't be fair to turn them down in favour of people who just aren't as good as them."

It didn't seem to have crossed his mind that his difficulties (and decisions) might have had something to do with the fact that he was a graduate of the same college where he was now a fellow and had formerly attended a well-known public school

2. A surprising revelation
Another colleague told me of an incident at an interview in which a prospective student had suddenly broken down and become a trembling wreck. When the interviewers asked him what the matter was, he replied: "Well, I haven't heard that one before." When they asked him what he meant by that, he spilled some rather interesting beans.

It turned out that his (fee-paying) school had a policy of getting all their pupils who ever went to an Oxford interview to write down, immediately afterwards, all the questions they could remember having been asked. These then went into a data-base that was used to coach all their future Oxford candidates before they went off for their interviews.

It was (and still is) a school with an outstanding record of getting its pupils into Oxbridge.

What chance of change?
It's about 25 years since I left Oxford, so I've no idea whether or not the university is still at the mercy of dons with an implicit (though reluctant, of course) bias towards public school applicants and fee-paying schools with systematic and effective ways of coaching their pupils in interview techniques

If it is, there seems little chance of shifting the balance to give pupils from state schools a better chance. Nor, when so many of our top politicians (in all parties) are products of the same public school-Oxbridge conveyor belt, does it seem likely that any of them will go very far beyond recommending change towards insisting on change.

Time to impose a built in bias
My solution would be to set up a controlled experiment along the lines of the admissions system I devised 40 years ago: build a bias in favour of students from less privileged backgrounds into the way Oxbridge colleges allocate places for a trial period of, say, three years. Then monitor the results to see if there's been any decline in degree performance.

If, as used to be the case, there's as little correlation between degree results and GCSEs as there used to be between GCEs and degree results,* there would surely be nothing to lose and everything to gain - if, of course, our politicians really do believe in making the opportunities available to our young people a good deal more equal than they are at present.

* P.S. Since writing this, I've just heard some fascinating news via Twitter from @SalBrinton, to whom many thanks. According to a recent and pretty respectable looking piece of research, comprehensive pupils outperform independent and grammar school pupils in university degrees.

On the face of it, this sounds to me like further evidence in support of weighting univerity admissions procedures in favour of pupils from the state sector...

9 February 2011

In praise of parliamentary rowdiness

Following today's Prime Minister's Question Time, Patrick O'Flynn, chief political commentator at the the Daily Express, made an interesting point on Twitter about the Speaker's attempts to deter MPs from booing, heckling and cheering so vigorously (via @oflynnexpress):

"Bercow overdoing the 'calm down' stuff on PMQs. Many of us think ideas must be aggressively scrutinised and don't hate the rumpus."

I don't hate the rumpus either - but for rather more technical reasons that have to with providing incentives for our representatives to pay attention to what each other is saying during parliamentary proceedings.

Rowdiness and the debate about broadcasting parliament
My research into speaker-audience interaction started fairly soon after broadcasts from the House of Commons first began (radio only) in 1975. In the debates leading up to it, I remember being amused and baffled by arguments from the opponents along the lines that it shouldn't be allowed because the rowdy behaviour of MPs would set a bad example to the young.

My interest in audience responses to different forms of public speaking had already reached the point of realising that the central problem for listeners to speeches was that the primary incentive for paying attention in conversation (i.e. the threat that you might have to start speaking any second now) is massively eroded for audiences: once you know that you won't get a chance to speak for the next 10 or 20 minutes, staying awake can become a serious problem

As I've written elsewhere: 'The reason why applause in political speeches seemed a promising place to start was because it provides instant and unambiguous evidence that listeners are (a) awake and paying close attention and (b) approve strongly enough of what’s just been said to show their approval of it (by clapping hands, cheering, etc.).'

Rowdiness as a powerful incentive to pay attention
In Lend Me Your Ears (pp. 32-33), I touched on the issue of negative audience responses as follows:

'.. the apparently rowdy behaviour of British Members of Parliament during debates in the House of Commons may have some rather more positive benefits than its negative public image would suggest. After all, if the odds of being called upon to speak are as poor as one in several hundred, there's so little chance of getting the next turn that you might as well go to sleep. But the tradition of cheering, booing and heckling not only provides an alternative way of expressing a view, it also give members more of a reason to listen. To be effective, booing and cheering require a degree of precision timing that can only be achieved by paying attention closely enough to be able to identify statements worth responding to.'

Rowdiness and democracy
If, like me, you think it's rather a good idea for our representatives to pay close attention to what others are saying in parliamentary exchanges, getting our MP's to 'calm down', as recommended by Mr Speaker Berkow, would be a rather bad idea.

And, if you don't believe me, go and watch some legislative assemblies in other countries where there is no tradition of audience participation. If you do, you'll be as amazed as I've been on quite a number of occasions by what I saw: when one person is speaking, most of the others spend most of their time going through their brief cases, sorting out papers, reading them and generally showing no sign whatsoever of listening to anything said by anyone else.

In the face of such indifference from other members, the speakers themselves typically deliver their speeches with marginally less passion and conviction than a weather broadcaster reading out the latest shipping forecast.

Further reading:
  • Clayman, Steven E. 1992 "Caveat Orator: Audience Disaffiliation in the 1988 Presidential Debates." The Quarterly Journal of Speech 78: 33-60 (Download PDF).

8 February 2011

The Big Society and the resurrection of guilt-edged philanthropy?

The mystery of David Cameron's 'big society' is still bubbling along - from an ernest discussion of philanthropy on Newsnight a week or so ago to an erudite editorial in today's Guardian.

In response to the former, I was so unimpressed by the moralising waffle from the 'expert' guests that I tweeted something along the lines of "any first year sociology student could surely do a better job than this" on Twitter.

What I had in mind was that any first year sociology student will have been exposed to Max Weber's classic thesis on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which didn't get a mention from any of Newnight's 'experts' (at least while I was watching).

Weber in a nutshell
Central to Weber's argument was that Protestantism, especially the Calvinistic variety, was a powerful incentive to work hard, because work would keep you on the straight and narrow and protect you from sin. If this resulted in your accumulating wealth and spending it on yourself, you'd be veering back towards sin, so you'd better plough it back into the business - which would then grow further and offer yet more temptations, so you'd better plough that back into the business as well - and accumulate more wealth, etc., etc.

That, according to Weber, was what had spurred enterprise and capitalism to grow so strongly in protestant countries. But, as old age approached, the best way for the wealthy to avoid sin - and to save their offspring from the temptation of spending it all on themselves (i.e. sinning) - was to give large chunks of their capital away to worthy causes, as exemplified by famous English philanthropists like Lord Leverhulme and Joseph Rowntree.

Is British philanthropy a thing of the past?
One of the complaints being made by some of the pundits in the media (e.g. in the Newsnight programme mentioned above) has been that Britain's current generation of super-rich, unlike some of their counterparts in the USA, are much less philanthropic than their predecessors.

I have no idea how accurate a claim this is (as I could name at least one English billionaire who gives rather a lot of his money away - but does so without having his name attached to any of the benefits he pays for).

A legacy of the 1960s?
However, I am inclined to believe that there may well be fewer British philanthropists than there used to be, because I also happen to believe that the decline of the Protestant Ethic - i.e. a major motivation for philanthropy, according to Weber - may have been a hidden and lasting legacy from the 1960s.

I'm not suggesting that the sixties saw a sudden reduction in British puritanism in any particularly religious sense, but rather that people started to feel less guilty about enjoying leisure activities when they could/should have been working.

Work, leisure and guilt
My evidence is admittedly rather flimsy and personal, as it comes from noticing how some of my academic colleagues during the 1970s-80s, only a few years younger than me, seemed to have no qualms at all about taking whole afternoons off work to play golf or cricket - whereas I, along with others of a similar age, felt thoroughly guilty about taking as much an hour off to play squash, even though we had no particular commitment to Calvinism or any other form of protestantism.

In other words, when it came to feeling guilt about not working, there seemed to be a big difference between those of us born before 1950 and those born after 1950, perhaps because the younger cohort had spent more of their youth growing up during the swinging sixties than we had.

If there's any truth at all in this, more of today's British super-rich are also likely to have been born since 1950, in which case they're probably much less afflicted by feelings of guilt about spending their money on themselves than the wealthy once were. And, if the guilt factor has declined, it may also have weakened a key motive for graduating from entrepreneur to philanthropist.

The Big Society?
As for what such arguments have to do with David Cameron's 'big society', I don't know - unless the idea is to resurrect communal guilt in the hopes that it will motivate more of us to abandon some of our leisure pursuits in favour worthier causes...

4 February 2011

UK Speechwriters’ Guild awards: Geoff Burch, Business Communicator of the Year 2011

The UK Speechwriters’ Guild has awarded the Business Communicator of the Year Award 2011 to the speaker and author Geoff Burch.

Geoff Burch writes business books, gives speeches at corporate and sales conferences, and has appeared on the BBC TV series
All Over The Shop.

Chairman of the judges, Brian Jenner, said: “Geoff Burch is an unusual thing, a British motivational speaker. Only he tailors his message to a British audience by claiming to be a ‘miserable bastard’.”

“What we particularly like about his style is his accessibility: his ability to put ideas worthy of a place in the
Harvard Business Review in a format understandable to a telesales recruit on their first day”.

“Geoff Burch can craft striking phrases. His messages are simple and he clearly thinks very hard about
how to communicate things. And he delivers his speeches with the panache of a stand-up comedian.”

“Mr Burch eschews Power Point presentations and business jargon, which delights the judges.
They wish to hold him up as an example of how to inspire audiences in times of crisis.”

The UK Speechwriters’ Guild was set up in 2009 to promote the interests and profile of speechwriters and raise standards of public speaking in the UK.

Last year’s winner was Sir Martin Broughton, Chairman of British Airways, who went on to prove how his speechmaking skills gave him the power to influence Government policy and make headlines across the world. Sir Martin accepted his prize at the conference of the UK Speechwriters’ Guild in Bournemouth in September 2010.

More information about the UK Speechwriters’ Guild can be found
HERE.

2 February 2011

You don't need to speak Arabic to tell that Mubarak isn't much of an orator



I'm grateful to Martin Shovel for asking me via Twitter (@MartinShovel) earlier today: 'Where's your much anticipated rhetorical analysis of Mubarak's latest speech?'

The short answer is that there are some things for which I lack the time or inclination (or both).

But Martin's question did take me back to something I blogged about last July, when Fidel Castro had just given his first TV interview since his 'retirement' (HERE). That had reminded me of a rather obvious point I'd made in a heading above a picture of the young Castro in my book Our Masters' Voices (1984, p.4):

'Skillful public speaking can be readily recognized even in those whose politics we may disagree with, and whose languages we do not understand.'

What fascinated me then - and still does - is the fact that we don't have to be able to understand Spanish or German to be able to recognise that Castro and Hitler were highly effective orators.

The opposite is also the case: you don't have to be able to understand Arabic to be able to tell at a glance that Egyptian President Mubarak is a long way from the Premier League when it comes to public speaking - and non-Arabic speakers can check this out by watching him in action above.

The rise of the ineffective orator
Much the same can be said of other second and third generation revolutionary leaders. Compared with Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki was a bit short in the communication skills department. So too were Stalin, Khruschev and Brezhnev in comparison with Lenin (and I don't speak Russian, either).

The point is that, once a new order is established, behind the scenes committee work, plotting, befriending the right people, bumping off or otherwise disposing of rivals, winning support of the right factions and organisations , etc. become far more important than being able to appeal to a mass audience of people whose votes will determine your rise or fall.

Nor, if you can get to the top job - like so many leaders of Arab nations outside Egypt - by being the favoured relation of the previous head of a ruling family, do you have to worry about anything so tiresome as being able to move, persuade and inspire mass audiences.

Although I've no idea how effective an orator President Nasser, the first leader of the new Egypt, was, I'll bet he was a good deal better at it than his ousted predecessor (King Farouk).

Aprés Mubarak?
It now looks as though Hosni Mubarak's plan to take a leaf out of the Assad family book in Syria - by handing over to his son - is about to be thwarted. So, if Gamil Mubarak is still hoping to see his father's dream come true, he may well be in the market for some professional coaching.

Martin Shovel - and other likely UK suppliers of such services - may like to note that, according to The Sun, Gamil and his family have already decamped to his modest little £8.5 million pad in Knightsbridge. For his phone number and other contact details, I'm sure that the Murdoch family and/or News International will be able to oblige...

More 3-part lists and a touch of management speak from Obama on Egypt


From his five minute speech yesterday, it was yet another three-part list was singled out from President Obama's statement about Egypt to become the most widely quoted line in the news headlines:

"An orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful and it must begin now."

I say 'yet another' because I've commented before on Obama's frequent use of three-part lists, of which there were 29 in his ten minute victory speech in Chicago.

And yesterday's headline was only one of six such lists in his five-minute statement, the others being:
  1. "Over the past few days, the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt.
  2. "We’ve seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people.
  3. "We’ve borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States."
"And throughout this period, we’ve stood for a set of core principles.
  1. "First, we oppose violence ...
  2. "Second, we stand for universal values ...
  3. "Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change ... "
  1. "Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties.
  2. "It should lead to elections that are free and fair.
  3. "And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people."
"I want to be clear:
  1. "We hear your voices.
  2. "I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren.
  3. "And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt."
  1. "That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets.
  2. "It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers.
  3. "And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum."
Management-speak?
However smooth the rhetoric written into this hastily prepared statement (produced, as it was, very soon after Mubarak's speech in Cairo) might have been, I was surprised to hear the inclusion of a participle that's been featuring more and more in management presentations over the past few years, namely the use of 'going forward' when speakers are talking about the future:

"And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful."

"And going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world."

Personally, I find it almost as irritating and distracting as the growing preference for using 'ahead of' when the speaker or writer (journalists being the worst offenders) actually means 'before' (HERE) - and I recommend people on my courses to avoid using either of them.

Unless President Obama really does want to sound like an MBA graduate who's just swallowed a dictionary of management jargon, I think it's time he had a word with his speechwriters. And, while he's at it, he might like to remind them that one 'furthermore' in a speech is one too many.

Full script of President Obama's statement on Egypt
Good evening, everybody. Over the past few days, the American people have watched the situation unfolding in Egypt. We’ve seen enormous demonstrations by the Egyptian people. We’ve borne witness to the beginning of a new chapter in the history of a great country, and a long-time partner of the United States.

And my administration has been in close contact with our Egyptian counterparts and a broad range of the Egyptian people, as well as others across the region and across the globe. And throughout this period, we’ve stood for a set of core principles.

First, we oppose violence. And I want to commend the Egyptian military for the professionalism and patriotism that it has shown thus far in allowing peaceful protests while protecting the Egyptian people. We’ve seen tanks covered with banners, and soldiers and protesters embracing in the streets. And going forward, I urge the military to continue its efforts to help ensure that this time of change is peaceful.

Second, we stand for universal values, including the rights of the Egyptian people to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and the freedom to access information. Once more, we’ve seen the incredible potential for technology to empower citizens and the dignity of those who stand up for a better future. And going forward, the United States will continue to stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.

Third, we have spoken out on behalf of the need for change. After his speech tonight, I spoke directly to President Mubarak. He recognizes that the status quo is not sustainable and that a change must take place. Indeed, all of us who are privileged to serve in positions of political power do so at the will of our people. Through thousands of years, Egypt has known many moments of transformation. The voices of the Egyptian people tell us that this is one of those moments; this is one of those times.

Now, it is not the role of any other country to determine Egypt’s leaders. Only the Egyptian people can do that. What is clear — and what I indicated tonight to President Mubarak — is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now.

Furthermore, the process must include a broad spectrum of Egyptian voices and opposition parties. It should lead to elections that are free and fair. And it should result in a government that’s not only grounded in democratic principles, but is also responsive to the aspirations of the Egyptian people.

Throughout this process, the United States will continue to extend the hand of partnership and friendship to Egypt. And we stand ready to provide any assistance that is necessary to help the Egyptian people as they manage the aftermath of these protests.

Over the last few days, the passion and the dignity that has been demonstrated by the people of Egypt has been an inspiration to people around the world, including here in the United States, and to all those who believe in the inevitability of human freedom.

To the people of Egypt, particularly the young people of Egypt, I want to be clear: We hear your voices. I have an unyielding belief that you will determine your own destiny and seize the promise of a better future for your children and your grandchildren. And I say that as someone who is committed to a partnership between the United States and Egypt.

There will be difficult days ahead. Many questions about Egypt’s future remain unanswered. But I am confident that the people of Egypt will find those answers. That truth can be seen in the sense of community in the streets. It can be seen in the mothers and fathers embracing soldiers. And it can be seen in the Egyptians who linked arms to protect the national museum — a new generation protecting the treasures of antiquity; a human chain connecting a great and ancient civilization to the promise of a new day.

Thank you very much.

1 February 2011

Always look on the bright side: the Northern Lights, a cruise and a conversation

I mentioned in the previous post that we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights from a return boat trip from Tromso to Kirkeness, a few miles from Norway's northern border with Russia.

And 'glimpse', alas, turned out to be exactly what it was. Yes, we did see them, but not in the glorious technicolor to be seen on DVDs and from picture searches on Google. What we did see on a couple of nights were more like strangely-shaped moonlit clouds - good to have seen them, but hardly up to the sales blurb that had tempted us so far north in the middle of winter.

So here are a couple of handy tips for any readers who might be planning a similar trip

TIP 1: Find a more comfortable way of seeing them
The trouble with inspecting the Northern Lights from a boat is that, however warm and comfortable it may be, you have to go out on deck whenever they appear. Apart from the rush of passengers, many of whom were quite old and frail, the icy surface under foot made it quite a challenge just to remain vertical. Then, once you'd found a gap on the rail to hang on to, the freezing wind meant that you could only manage a few minutes of sky-gazing before the threat of hypothermia drove you inside again.

Another hazard, as unexpected as it was hilarious, was came from an idiot who came dashing out with a torch asking "where are they?" By the time he'd finished flashing his light into our eyes, none of us could see well enough to tell him where to look.

All of which suggests to me that a much more comfortable way of seeing the Northern Lights would be from a suitably located luxury hotel equipped with a heated greenhouse or conservatory, amply furnished with comfortable beds and/or sofas.

TIP 2: Beware of cruises that tell you where to sit
I've blogged before about people who routinely break the most basic rules of conversation (e.g. HERE). On the first night of the trip, we were allocated to a table at which, it turned out, the organisers were intending that we should sit for dinner on all four nights of the cruise.

It was a table for 4 people and, though I didn't have a stop-watch on me, I can report that the time spent speaking by each of us around the said table was not far off the following:

Speaker A: 94%
Speaker B: 3%
Speaker C: 2%
Speaker D: 1 %

After the first ten minutes, we'd had a full run-down of A's allergies and ailments, past and present. By the end of the meal, we knew how many times she'd been married, how many children and grandchildren she had, together with related face-sheet data on each of them (names, ages, occupations, where they lived + some of their medical histories too), why she and her current husband (Speaker D) lived where they lived, where it is in relation to the Tesco roundabout on the by-pass, which junction it was nearest to on the M1, what kind of house they live in, how much it had cost to buy compared with the one they'd sold, how much work had been needed to do it up (+ detailed costs of different home improvement projects), how she'd bought it while D was in hospital suffering from (cue more details about illnesses), which excursions they were planning to go on over the next few days (plus detailed explanations of why they'd selected some and not others), where the money to pay for holidays like this had come from (i.e. a late parent's estate, complete with details of how her share of it compared with that received by her siblings, about each of whom yet more details about etc., etc., etc.

During this unstoppable torrent, the only thing we managed to divulge about ourselves was that we live in Somerset (thankfully, a safe distance away from any junction on the M1).

I went straight from the table to the desk of the tour operator's representative, who confirmed that we were indeed going to have to sit through three more meals with Speaker A - and that no, this would not qualify us to get any of our money back. Nor was he able to provide any explanation or reason why the company saw fit to condemn its customers to such a miserable fate.

Luckily, he did have one useful tip: there were two separate sittings for dinner and it might be possible to arrange with the restaurant manager for us to escape to the other one - which I did and we did.

Needless to say, I shall be raising this matter if and when the company's customer-satisfaction questionnaire ever reaches me.

Looking on the bright side
In the meantime, the sheer awfulness of having to put up with this relentless violation of the most basic rules of turn-taking has spurred me on (yet again) to start planning the book about conversation that I've been threatening to write for at least 25 years. For that, at least, I am grateful to Speaker A, whose blistering performance may even provide the basis for a chapter (or two).