31 March 2011

Ed Miliband makes a better speech - but could do with a better backdrop



In case anyone thinks I'm sometimes too critical of Ed Miliband, I'd like to put it on record that I thought his speech today was a much better effort than the one he made at the cuts demo a few days ago (for comment on which, see HERE).

But why on earth do his aides set things up with members of the audience sitting in the background? Margaret Thatcher was the first British politician to realise that it's much safer to have no one visible on the platform with you.

After a party conference speech in which opponents from the far left kept shaking their heads and looking cross at what Neil Kinnock was saying, he quickly followed suit and spoke from a suitably isolated lectern.

Admittedly, there's no head-shaking here, let alone yawning - as happened on several occasions when John Major spoke with audiences behind him. But they can hardly be said to be looking very enthused by what Mr Miliband is saying.

If, as I've seen argued elsewhere, the reason for having part of the audience visible is to show what a representative bunch of supporters you have, all I'd say is that this sample strikes me as being a bit lacking in people from diverse age and ethnic groups.

29 March 2011

Memorable speeches in Berlin revisited

Before leaving for a few days in Berlin last week, I posted a note about my first visit to the city in 1964 (HERE), one year after John F. Kennedy's Ich bin ein Berliner speech and more than twenty years before Ronald Reagan challenged Mr Gorbachev to open this gate and tear down this wall.

On arriving home, I heard Ed Miliband making a not very successful attempt at delivering a memorable speech, in which he sought to identify with the likes of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela and the suffragettes (HERE).

Coming so closely together, these two events got me thinking again about something I've blogged about before, namely the question of what makes a speech memorable? Of the speeches mentioned in that particular post, I noted:

'.. what, if anything, did these particular speeches have in common that made them stand out as more memorable than most?

'The best I’ve been able to come up with is that, in each case, the speaker managed to hit the jackpot by saying something that struck just the right chord with just the right audience in just the right place at just the right moment in history – which means that it’s more or less impossible to predict ‘memorability’ with any certainty in advance of any particular speech - though I did wonder whether this was what Barack Obama had in mind when he tried unsuccessfully to speak at the Brandenburg Gate when visiting Berlin last year – given the previous Berlin successes of Kennedy in 1961 and Ronald Reagan’s ‘Tear down this wall’ in 1987.'

Right chord, right audience, right place, right time
Given that Ed Miliband's speech at the weekend arguably failed to hit the mark on any of these counts, it's hardly surprising that it didn't get a very good press - and, though I don't often make predictions, I'd say that there's not much chance of its going down in history as 'memorable' - unlike those by Kennedy and Reagan in Berlin, both of which scored highly on all of these attributes.

Since my last visit to the city in 1964, it had changed almost beyond recognition. Being able to wander around the Brandenberg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and some of the remaining segments of the wall (without fear of being noticed or harassed by armed guards) is quite a moving experience if you'd seen what it was like just after the wall had been built.

As a speeches anorak, I found lines from Kennedy and Reagan coming back to me and kept wondering what it must have been like to have been there listening to them speak in the shadow of the wall. On arriving home, I watched both of them again and wasn't disappointed.

If you're too young to remember them or have never seen them, a few minutes looking at them will be time well spent.

John F. Kennedy, 1963
Although some have claimed that "Ich bin ein Berliner" means "I am a doughnut" and that JFK should have said "Ich bin Berliner", my German friends assure me that both options are equally acceptable ways of saying "I am a Berliner."

Three technically impressive points are worth noting:
  1. His final line repeats and harks back to his first use of it at the beginning of the speech - always an impressive technique for creating a neat impression of overall structural unity (Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 292-293).
  2. The first appearance of Ich bin ein Berliner came as the second part of a past-present contrast, further strengthened by the contrast between Latin and German versions of the 'proudest boast'.
  3. The repetition of "Let them come to Berlin", concluding with more words in German, was greeted by repeated cheers and applause from the audience. Had "Ich bin ein Berliner"not struck such a powerful chord, the speech might well have become known as the "Let them come to Berlin" speech - just as the repetitive use of "I have a dream" by Martin Luther King became the name of another great speech in Washington two months later.


Script
I am proud to come to this city as the guest of your distinguished Mayor, who has symbolized throughout the world the fighting spirit of West Berlin. And I am proud -- And I am proud to visit the Federal Republic with your distinguished Chancellor who for so many years has committed Germany to democracy and freedom and progress, and to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed.

Two thousand years ago --
Two thousand years ago, the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."

(I appreciate my interpreter translating my German.)

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world.

Let them come to Berlin.

There are some who say -- There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future.

Let them come to Berlin.

And there are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists.

Let them come to Berlin.

And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress.

Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen.

Let them come to Berlin
.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect. But we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in -- to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say on behalf of my countrymen who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride, that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope, and the determination of the city of West Berlin.

While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system -- for all the world to see -- we take no satisfaction in it; for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.

What is -- What is true of this city is true of Germany: Real, lasting peace in Europe can never be assured as long as one German out of four is denied the elementary right of free men, and that is to make a free choice. In 18 years of peace and good faith, this generation of Germans has earned the right to be free, including the right to unite their families and their nation in lasting peace, with good will to all people.

You live in a defended island of freedom, but your life is part of the main. So let me ask you, as I close, to lift your eyes beyond the dangers of today, to the hopes of tomorrow, beyond the freedom merely of this city of Berlin, or your country of Germany, to the advance of freedom everywhere, beyond the wall to the day of peace with justice, beyond yourselves and ourselves to all mankind.

Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free. When all are free, then we look -- can look forward to that day when this city will be joined as one and this country and this great Continent of Europe in a peaceful and hopeful globe. When that day finally comes, as it will, the people of West Berlin can take sober satisfaction in the fact that they were in the front lines for almost two decades.

All -- All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin.

And, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Ronald Reagan, 1987
The most famous lines were by no means the first impressive parts of the speech. Other points worth noting included:
  1. The target audiences had been clearly analysed in advance (Step 1 in preparing a speech or presentation, Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 280-286): "Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the American people. To those listening in East Berlin, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin].
  2. Powerful imagery: "those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers."
  3. Powerful use of contrasts: "President Von Weizsäcker has said, 'The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed.' Well today -- today I say: As long as this gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind."


Script of video clip
And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

For full script and video, see HERE and HERE.

Other Posts on Kennedy & Reagan



27 March 2011

Miliband's naïvity of youth strikes again?



During the Labour Party leadership campaign last year, I dared to suggest that, effective though Ed Miliband's repetitive denunciations of 'New Labour' may have been in winning support from the unions, he was too young to remember the disasters that led his party into eighteen years of opposition after losing the 1979 general election (HERE).

Watching this clip from his speech at yesterday's anti-cuts demonstration, I was reminded again of the naïvity of youth - and more than a little flabbergasted to hear him equating the demo with some rather more important movements from the past.

It really got me wondering about his grasp on history. Had they already stopped teaching proper history in schools by the time he got there? Or is this kind of glib identification with the suffragettes, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela only to be expected from someone who was brought up in a Marxist household, where facts and evidence were presumably never allowed to get in the way of a good theory.

22 March 2011

Berlin revisited

Later today, I'm going to Berlin for the first time since 1964.

As students, we were on our way back from Sweden in my first car - a purple (!) Triumph Herald - and suddenly decided to turn left and have a look at Berlin.

Until then, I hadn't realised that Berlin was marooned in the middle of East Germany, and certainly wasn't expecting that I was about to draw back from the brink of far-left politics, let alone start to understnd what the cold war was all about.

The cost of driving through East Germany
In those days, a green insurance card coveered you to drive all over Europe - except for the DDR. Communists they may have been, but they knew how to make a quick buck or two. At the border, you not only had to buy their insurance to drive along their autobahns, but you also had to buy a visa.

Once on the way, it became clear that the East Germans had done no repairs to the autobahn since before the war, presumably to make it as difficult as possible to drive to West Berlin. There were pot-holes everywhere and it was impossible to go much more than 30 mph - which was slow even by Triumph Herald standards.

Mirrors on sticks
Getting into West Berlin meant waiting a very long time for the privilege. One set of border guards scrutinised your passport and newly acquired visa with a degree of bureaucratic assiduousness that made you wonder what unspeakable things they'd been up to during the war.

Then more guards appeared to make you unpack everything and take out the back seats of the car. Not content with finding no escapees hiding there, they produced long sticks with mirrors stuck on the end of them to poke under the car. Triumph Herald's may have been famous for having a proper chassis, but even I knew that there wasn't room to hide a body, dead or alive, underneath it.

Once this ridiculous process had been completed, we were allowed to drive through the high barbed wire fences into West Berlin.

The unexpected road block
Although we had a map, we'd no idea where to go, let alone where we were going to stay the night. So we started driving about until the road ahead was suddenly blocked. It wasn't just that there was a wall across the middle of it, but soldiers with guns also appeared as we approached.

I've no idea what the West Berlin laws had to say about doing sudden U-turns in the middle of a street, but there was no choice - and the Triumph Herald was also well-known for its unusually sharp lock that enabled you to tuen front wheels to almost 90 degrees).

An uncomfortable night and a hasty retreat
Having had to spend so much buying a DDR visa and DDR car insurance, we were so short of cash that we had little choice to sleep in the car. Nor, given that this was long before reclining seats had been invented, did we get much sleep at all.

By dawn, we agreed that we'd had enough of Berlin and it was time to go home. Knowing that no one would be mad enough to try to escape from the West into East Germany, these border guards didn't bother with mirrors and weren't very interested in our passports or visas.

Over the border to freedom
But when it came to getting across the border from East to West Germany, out came the mirrors on sticks again. And, early though it still was, we had to wait in a traffic jam for an hour or two before being allowed out.

At some stage, we must have bought some bread, cheese and a few bottles of beer, because my most vivid memory of the trip was having a picnic on a hill at the edge of a wood somewhere near Magdeburg.

We didn't say much. Left-wing students of the sixties we may have been before the previous day, the only thought going through my mind was: "For the first time, we now know know what freedom really means."

21 March 2011

How effective are Sky Newswall presentations?



Regular readers will know that I've never been much impressed by the way in which BBC television news and current affairs programmes like Newsnight have become more and more dependent on PowerPoint-style presentations by their reporters (see below).

Unlike the BBC, Sky News doesn't have its reporters standing on one side of a screen but directly in front of their cinemascope-style 'newswall'.

Watching some of their reports on Libya, I began to think that it worked rather better than the BBC's reporter-standing-next-to-a-screen approach. But there are two reasons why I don't feel able to decide between them just yet.

The first is that I don't see it as often as BBC News and therefore need to watch more Sky News before being able to come to a definite conclusion.

The second is that the above clip uses a map, and maps can be a very helpful visual aid for audiences (see Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 152-3).

In fact, the above clip from Sky News reminded me of a brilliant lecture I attended about twenty years ago. The subject was the Soviet economy and the audience was made up of delegates on a general management course. The lecturer's only visual aid was a gigantic map of Europe and Asia that was pinned on the wall behind him. Rather than using a wobbly laser pointer, his pointer of choice was a billiards cue with which he punctuated his lecture by urgent dashes from side to side to point at the places he was talking about.

The Sky News presenter in the above clip doesn't dash from side to side - and was certainly a lot less worried that I was when a graphic of a jet fighter plane zoomed in and nearly hit him (1.05 minutes in).

But the question is: how effective are 'newswall' presentations when they're showing something other than a map?

I'm planning to watch Sky News more closely in the weeks ahead and will report back in due course. Meanwhile, I'd be interested to know what other viewers think about Sky's 'newswall' - and whether they think it's an improvement on the way BBC News replicates more conventional PowerPoint presentations.

18 March 2011

Cameron's good timing

The UN resolution on Libya, in which the part played by David Cameron in pushing it through has been getting a good press (so far), happened at a rather convenient time for him. Party spring conferences, especially their Scottish spring conferences, tend not to get much media coverage.

But today the Conservative Party's spring conference in Perth did get quite a lot of media coverage, and provided the Prime Minister with a nice opportunity to say more about his stance on Libya.

And notice that, unlike the Deputy Prime Minister at the Liberal Democrat spring conference last week, Mr Cameron spoke from a lectern and looked considerably more statesmanlike than Nick Clegg did as he walked around the platform pretending not to be using a script while reading from teleprompters (HERE).


15 March 2011

Results of the defend a doomed dictator speechwriting competition

In case you're wondering what this is all about, you can catch up on the details here:

Results
And the (first-past-the-post) winner is .... Julien Foster for speech D (see below). Second is ... Bryn Williams for speech F (see below).

What clinched it for Mr Foster was that his final line made all three judges (and me) laugh.

Judges Collins and Finkelstein concluded: 'We thought E and D were amusing, which we thought was the right way to approach the contest. They were both funny and just plausible enough. But, if we had to choose between them, D just gets the nod for the simple yet inexplicable reason that the David Steel gag at the end really made us laugh.'

Judge Grender noted "Enjoyed all of these and laughed out loud at the thought of Gaddafi saying 'Go back to your constituencies – and prepare for government'. But in the end it was F who demonstrated the rhetorical flair that all good pupils of Max Atkinson (or avid readers of Lend Me Your Ears) aspire to. The use of 'wind' contrasted with 'fire' was great. The liberal use of 3-part sentences had echoes of the rhetoric of Obama's best not Gaddafi's worst. 'Step back' so we can 'march forward' gave it a nice strong ending. Have not as yet noticed an ad on Working for You for a new speech writer for Libyan dictator, but if one comes up you should most definitely send in your c.v."

Thanks to everyone who took the trouble to enter the contest by submitting such high quality speeches and to Phil Collins, Danny Finkelstein and Olly Grender for passing judgement on them.

Olly Grender will obviously be receiving a previously unannounced Brown Nose Award for weaving an advertisement for one of my books into her comments.

First Prize: Speech D by Julien Foster
Friends, Libyans, Countrymen! Lend me your ears.
I come to bury Colonel Gadaffi, not to praise him.

I’m not going to read to you from a document.
But speak to you from the heart.

I’m not going to address you in classical Arabic.
But talk to you in Libyan.

Above all, I’m not going to hide from you.
I’m going to say it as it is.
And it may be a bit messy. But it’ll be me.

We now have a huge opportunity for change.
It’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We’ve seen it happening in Egypt, in Tunisia…
…and now, here, in Libya.

Not change brought about by foreign governments.
Not change brought about by traitors.
But change brought about by us, the people.

And there are some who are trying to resist that change.
So I say to you very simply:
Go back to your constituencies – and prepare for government.


Second Prize: Speech F Mugabe's Last Stand by Bryn Williams
The West proclaim the winds of change blow through Africa once more.
They can't contain their pleasure.
Their smugness betrays them.
It clings to every word.

But these aren't the winds of change that blew in the past.
The winds which freed us from the bonds of slavery.
The winds which spared us from the blight of exploitation.
The winds which saved us from the suppression of our colonial masters.

These aren't winds founded on freedom or liberation.
These aren't winds at all.

These are fires.
Fires fuelled by exploitation.
Fires stoked by the resource thirsty tyrants of the West.
Fires lit to incinerate the fabric of our culture.

The West have learned that regime change doesn't work.
Afghanistan and Iraq have failed.
They have failed for two reasons.
Their cultures, like ours, are unsuited to democracy.
Their governments, unlike yours, are under Western control.

The West have learned that regime change doesn't work.
They are not prepared to risk it a third time.

Zimbabwe,
Believe me.
The West are not empowering a change of regime.
The West are implementing a change of policy.

A return to the policy of the past.
A return to the policy of exploitation.
A return to colonisation.

If controlling the government doesn't work,
become the government.

You are hearing whispers of a better future from people who are faceless.

You are not hearing firm declarations from the leaders of the future.
You are not hearing solid plans to deal with the problems of today.
You are not hearing robust proposals to pay off the debts of the past.

Why are there no leaders
no plans and
no money?

Because they don't exist.

The whisperers exist.
The rumour mongers exist.
Enemies always exist.

Waiting to exploit you,
your family,
and your future.

Whether we like it or not
this policy of African exploitation is a political fact.

So I ask you to take a moment,
take a deep breath,
and take a step back.

Take a step back from the future of their making.
So, together, we can march forward
to a future of our choosing.

14 March 2011

Could Clegg improve his impact with better speechwriting and rehearsal?

As is explained in my books and illustrated by numerous video clips posted on this blog, the contrast is one of the most important and reliable rhetorical devices for triggering applause in speeches. So it can often be instructive to look at 'deviant cases', where they don't work quite as smoothly as they could or should have done, to see what went wrong and what, if anything, we can learn from them.

There was at least one such example during the Deputy Prime Minister's speech winding up yesterdays conference of the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield yesterday after a simple past/present contrast:

Clegg: "We cherished those values in opposition. Now we're living by them in government."

But, as you'll see, the applause didn't start straight away and, when it did, after his first "So yes", it sounded somewhat lukewarm (i.e. not only delayed, but also lasting well below the 'standard' burst of 8 ± 1 seconds):

video

It could. of course, be argued that this merely reflected the audience's ambivalence about their party's involvement in the coalition government. But there were at least two technical errors without which it could have induced a much more prompt and longer-lasting response.

1. Better scripting?
In stead of using a pronoun ('them') to refer to 'those values' in the second part of the contrast, the speechwriters could have made the sequence work better by repeating 'those values', so that it read as follows:

"We cherished those values in opposition.
Now we're living by those values in government."

2. Better rehearsal?
A second reason why the audience delayed before applauding was that Clegg didn't stop immediately after the second part of the contrast, but rushed on to continue with "so yes-'.

This may have been because he was too glued to the words coming up on the screens and was 'teleprompted' onwards, or because he hadn't rehearsed it enough beforehand - or perhaps a combination of the two.

In any event, a rather crucial line only managed to prompt a delayed and lukewarm response, leaving him looking vaguely perplexed as to what to do next, other than repeating the same two words waiting there on the screens.

So what?
You might think that this hardly mattered on a day when the news was dominated by the Japanese earthquake. And you'd be dead right, were it not for the fact that this particular sequence was one of the few that actually did make it on to the prime-time news bulletins last night and, via ITN, on to YouTube.

Related posts
On delayed and/or lukewarm applause

12 March 2011

Why I never signed the ThatchCard

Here's the latest discovery from my continuing office removal. I can't remember where it came from, but it was probably a gift from Lord Gnome of Private Eye.

Note that I never actually signed it - for the obvious reason that my interest in analysing political speeches meant that I'd have welcomed the chance of meeting her in her prime, for research purposes, you understand - and this far outweighed any sympathy I might have had for the message being purveyed by the ThatchCard's publisher.

What if?

Moving my office from one room to another has forced me to venture back into ancient files and make daily decisions about what to throw out and what to keep.

I'd forgotten that I still had this letter from the then secretary of the Yorkshire County Cricket Club inviting me to some Schoolboys' coaching sessions at Headingley. The deal was that, if they thought you were any good, you'd become a 'Yorkshire Colt', which meant that the YCCC would pay for your bus fare when you came for further coaching sessions. In short, we all knew that this could be the first step towards our sporting dream.


Coaches and autographs
When we got there, we had to line up and take it in turns to bat and bowl in the nets, closely watched by the two grumpy looking county coaches of the day, Arthur Mitchell and Maurice Leyland. Every now and then, one or other of them would growl "Next", which was, as far as I remember, the sum total of the 'coaching' any of us received.

Meanwhile, various current and former county players would wander around inspecting the 'talent'. They looked just as grumpy as Mitchell and Leyland, but their presence did at least give us the chance to collect a few autographs. Len Hutton's was the most impressive one I got, but I do remember being quite disappointed that he signed my book 'Leonard Hutton' - if only he'd read Wikipedia, he'd surely have known that he was 'commonly named Len Hutton'.

You'll have gathered, of course, that although I did manage to reach the Headingley schoolboy nets two years running, I didn't pass the Mitchell-Leyland test. So it's all their fault that I had to find something else to do when I grew up.

If only
Thirty years later, on discovering I might need reading glasses, I went for my first ever eye test - which also revealed that I had slight astigmatism. "Is that also age-related?" I asked, to which the optician replied "No, you'll have had it all your life."

Realising that, if only I'd had the right specs in 1955, I might have made it back to Headingley on a full-time basis. I was initially overwhelmed by depression, wondering what on earth I was doing in Oxford when I could/should have been coming to the end of a glorious career playing for Yorkshire. But then it dawned on me that there was quite a big silver lining after all.

The silver lining
Given my age and the fact that one of my specialisms was as an opening batsman, my dream coming true would also have condemned me to years of having to go in to bat as (junior/younger) partner to Geoffrey Boycott (who did have the right specs).

Compared with him, I suspect, even other academics were not only much more congenial as colleagues, but they also liberated me from a career that would have been plagued by the daily fears and frustrations of being run out.

9 March 2011

Using video in a presentation: 7 steps to success

Over the last few days, I came across a couple of things that have prompted this post. The first was that I found myself giving a few tips to a Twitter follower on how to use video in a presentation.

The second was reading an interesting post by Lily Latridis on the Fearless Delivery blog , entitled Video in a Presentation can be a Big Mistake. At first sight, the title got me worried - as I hardly ever give a talk without using video clips to illustrate key points about public speaking and presentation.

It also reminded me that, when I first started using videos, we were still using Betamax rather than VHS - since when I've used them in hundreds, if not thousands, of presentations. What's more, I'm fairly sure that it hasn't been 'a Big Mistake' - unless feedback, course evaluations and repeat bookings are a completely misleading guide to audience reactions.

Fortunately, my initial sense of dread on seeing the title disappeared as soon as I'd read the post (HERE), as it turned out that the types of video Lily Latridis was warning against and the purpose for which they were being used were both very different from the the short clips used my own presentations (which mainly consist of 10 second excerpts from speeches illustrating different rhetorical techniques).

In fact, I found myself agreeing with pretty much everything Lily Latridis had to say about the types of videos she was talking about - and suspect that she might well agree with something I wrote about the use of videos in the section on different types of visual aids in my book Lend Me Your Ears (pp. 117-174):

'When using video, it's usually best to keep the clips short and the 30 second television commercial is a useful guide to optimal length. If you play longer clips, the danger is that the audience will start to feel that they're at a film show rather than a presentation. Once that happens, you may well find yourself losing the impetus, and have problems getting them back into the mood for listening to a talk. And, if it was a lively well-produced piece of video, there's the added risk of coming across as dull and amateurish compared with what they've just been watching' (LMYE, p. 152).

In retrospect, I realise that I could (and probably should) have included more practical advice on how to use video in presentations. So here, with thanks to Lily Latridis and my other Twitter contact for inspiring this postscript, are some tips from my own experience of discovering that video doesn't always have to be a big mistake.

SEVEN STEPS TO SUCCESS

1. Select clear examples
Many of the illustrations in scientific and medical text books are selected from hundreds of pictures in order to give the clearest possible example of whatever it is that's being described. The same principle should also be used in selecting video clips, as your audience has to be able to see/hear what you've told them to look out for instantly and at a glance (and without prompting doubt or irrelevant questions).

2. Use more than one clip to illustrate the same point
If you're making a point about the regularity with which speakers use a particular technique, you need to show more than one example of the same thing in action. By the time they've seen a third one, they'll have got the point, and you don't need four, five or six to convince them.

3. Think twice about who and what to include
When I first started teaching how to use rhetoric, I quickly discovered that, however effective an orator may have been, there were certain politicians and public figures who aroused such strong political reactions (e.g. Hitler, Ian Paisley, Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn, etc.) that their inclusion distracted audiences away from whatever technical point I was making.

So, whilst I still think it's important to show that the same techniques work in the same way irrespective of the party represented by a speaker, I've found it necessary to exclude certain speakers from my demo tapes over the years.

A related lesson I learnt very early on was to concentrate on showing clips by effective speakers and to make minimal use of ineffective ones. Hopeless speakers may demonstrate how not to do it, but the trouble is that what was boring in the first place is no less boring for the audience you're inflicting it on in the second place via a video.

4. Blank the screen out between each video clip
One of the (many) advantages that Betamax had over VHS was that, when you pressed the 'Stop' button, it stopped exactly where you stopped it and the screen blanked out until you pressed 'Start', when it carried on with the next clip you wanted to play. But do that with a VHS machine, and the tape would back up and, on pressing 'Play', you'd get a replay of part of the previous clip - which was, to say the least, extremely annoying and distracting (both to me and my audiences).

As the market forced us to use VHS, my initial solution was to press the 'Pause' button and then release it when I was ready to play the next example. The trouble was that having a still picture up on the screen while introducing the next one was a needless distraction for the audience. So I started to insert a few seconds of darkness on each demo-tape to encourage the audience's attention away from the screen and back to me until I was ready to 'un-pause' it and show the next exhibit.

Now that we have to use DVD players or laptops, I still make sure that the screen goes blank between each clip, as is illustrated in the following video from last year's UK Speechwriters' Guild Annual Conference (you can also see the notes of what I said each time the screen went blank HERE):

video

5. To embed or to edit?
As regular readers of this blog will know, I often include video clips to illustrate points being made in a particular post. The easiest way to do this is to 'embed' videos from YouTube or some other website. But the trouble with this is that the originals are often far too long and/or there's only a short excerpt from it that I want to comment on.

So you either have to tell readers how far to scroll in to see the point of interest (which I find quite annoying when looking at other blogs) or you can edit out everything else and produce a shorter clip of the relevant sequence.

The tips I found myself giving via Twitter the other day started by responding to someone who wanted to use video in a presentation and had tweeted a question asking if you can extract video from a DVD on to a Mac, to which I replied "Yes, I do it all the time but can't explain how in 140 characters."

As others have also asked me where I get clips from and how I edit them, it might be useful to outline how to go about it.

6. Where do you get videos from?
Thirty years ago, we had to record from live television - which produced very long video tapes and extremely time-consuming editing of short clips on to a demo-tape (using two VCRs). Today, we can either do the same by recording directly on to DVDs or select from the thousands of videos on the internet.

If you have a Mac, you'll be equipped with iMovie which, compared with Windows video-editing programs like Pinnacle, is far more reliable and much easier to use. Once you've edited a video, you can instantly convert it into whatever format you need (e.g. high quality DVD or lower quality for the web or email).

7. Useful software
If you want to copy movies from a DVD to your computer, you'll need a program like HandBrake that enables you to rip a DVD into QuickTime or other format that can be handled by iMovie.

If you've downloaded an FLV movie (e.g. from YouTube), Emicsoft FLV converter will convert it into an MP3 or other format that you can import into iMovie.

And anyone who thinks that this sounds like rather a long-winded process should remember that in the pre-digital age it could take anything up to two whole weeks to produce a half-decent demonstration tape.

Today I can create a new one from scratch in an hour or less - unless, of course, I need to fast-wind my way through hundreds of hours of videotapes before converting a long-lost clip to DVD before even being able to begin on the steps outlined above.

4 March 2011

Doomed Dictator Twitter Challenge: the sound bite winners

The original announcement of the Defend a doomed dictator speechwriting competition prompted so much activity on Twitter that it called for the creation of an additional award:

The 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).

The quantity and quality of the entries have in turn prompted me to divide this part of the competition into two divisions, with prizes to both the winners as follows:

(1) Prize for prolific parody: Charles Crawford (@charlescrawford), whose entries included the following gems:

Mr Gaddafi. Tear down this umbrella!

I have a dream. I HAVE a dream. I have a DREAM. To get out of Libya with my umbrella and most of my limbs attached to my body

We will kill on the roads and in the fields. We'd kill in the hedgerows if we had any We'll never surrender. Until we run away

Friends, Libyans, Countrymen - lend me your fastest private jet. I'm out of here!" PS "Oh and another plane for the gold pl"

To run, or not to run - that is the Q. Whether tis better to take arms against a sea of protestors, or do the Benito Dangle.

Don't ask what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do to loot your country. Then grab swag and dash to Chavez's


(2) Prize for brevity: Carl Quilliam (@carlquilliam)

Gadaffi: 'I'll get my coat'

Thanks and congratulations to Messrs Crawford and Quilliam, who will both be receiving a signed copy of Speech-making & Presentation Made Easy: Seven Essential Steps to Success, as soon as they've supplied me with their snail-mail addresses.

(Judgement of the full speeches by doomed dictators is still in progress, but you can inspect all the entries HERE).

3 March 2011

Doomed dictators speechwriting competition: the judges & the speeches

I'd like to record my sincere thanks to those who took the trouble to enter the Defend a Doomed Dictator Speechwriting Competition and whose efforts have resulted in seven more entries than I'd expected. Such was the quality that they deserve serious judgement.

So I'm delighted to announce that I'm also extremely grateful to three distinguished and experienced speechwriters for agreeing to act as adjudicators:

Danny Finkelstein is a Times columnist who was formerly Director of the Conservative Research Department and political adviser and speechwriter to William Hague when he was leader of the Conservative Pary

Olly Grender was the Director of Communications for the Liberal Democrats, before which she was speechwriter to Paddy Ashdown.

Phil Collins is a Times columnist and Visiting Fellow in the Department of Public Policy at Oxford, having previously worked in Downing Street as chief speechwriter to Tony Blair.

As they get down to their work, you might like to join in the deliberations and perhaps even predict the winner.

Where included, the titles submitted by the entrants have been included. And, in case you're surprised by some of their 'clients', don't forget that the rules did invite writers to compose a speech for 'the past or present dictator of your choice (0r one of his relations)'.


THE 7 SPEECHES:

Speech A: For Colonel Gadaffi (to be made at the start of the unrest):
42 years ago I led a glorious people's revolution which overthrew the corrupt enemy of Libya King Idris.

Today I am proud to see that the spirit of the people's revolution has been passed on to the younger generation.

I know why you, my fellow Libyans and revolutionaries are angry. I am but a man and I have made mistakes, mistakes and misjudgements which have led to the violence we see today, the same violence which is tearing our nation apart. I accept full responsibility for this. The fault is mine.

The people have spoken and I will respect their decision. I ask you only, from the bottom of my heart, for the chance to change. For the chance to change Libya to the nation you desire. For the chance to join with you in completing the people's revolution.

I denounce the rogue elements of the security forces that have disobeyed orders and attacked the people. Their commanders shall be tried by people's tribunals and punished accordingly.

I hereby draw a line under the past. I hereby request every city to choose representatives to attend a national congress to be held in Benghazi in 14 days. There I will listen to the demands of the people and submit myself to their will.

In the meantime, I urge you, my fellow countrymen, to end the bloodshed. Return to your homes and your jobs. The security forces will leave you in peace. Work together to clear the streets so that all can return to living without fear. Your demands will be met, but in the meantime let us stop any more blood from being shed, any more heads being broken and any more lives being lost.

I have heard you pleas as father of the people and I will work with all of you to build a new Libya of which we all can approve!


Speech B: What Saif Gaddafi might have said
Many Libyans have asked me to speak to you this evening.
I don't have a prepared paper, or a document to read from. I am not a spin-doctor. I will not speak in classical Arabic: I will speak in Libyan.

I’ll speak from my heart. And I will speak truly and frankly.

We all know that our region is passing through an earthquake, a hurricane of change. These storms are coming not from the leaders, but from you, the people.

Our people are angry. They - you - feel betrayed. They – you - demand a better life. They – you - have lost faith in the leaders.

Anger has led to protests, and protests have led to violence. Against the police and the army.

In Benghazi people wanted to storm the police stations and army bases, to try to seize weapons. Bayda is my town, my mother is from there. Extreme protesters there stole weapons and killed soldiers. Some of them want to establish an Islamic Emirate in Bayda. Naturally our security forces must resist this.

Tragically people have died, protesters and police and soldiers alike. Our fellow Libyans. Our brothers and sisters.

This is a national tragedy. I say prayers for all who have been lost in these clashes. The government will be making special money available, generous money, to help their families.

We all know one true thing. Libya is not Tunis or Egypt. Libya is different.

It has been a long road to come together to form our one nation. We had a civil war in 1936. It was American Oil Companies who played a big part in unifying Libya.

Surely we agree on one thing. We must not put our great achievements at risk.

If these protests continue and run out of control, our whole country could crash. A crazy scramble for our shared oil wealth would start. Who knows where it would go? We would slip back to 1936.

3/4s of our people live in the East in Benghazi. There is no oil there. What will happen to them? Who will invest in them? Your children will not go to schools or universities.

In recent years huge new investments have started. You can see them everywhere. New buildings. New schools. Our country is growing. We are using our oil money well. Jobs. Houses.

200 billion dollars of projects are now under way. If the country fights itself, what will get done? They won't be finished. Our shared wealth will blow away in the wind.

There will be chaos. Outsiders will move in to try to grab what they can. To manipulate the situation.

Not only Americans and big capitalists from Europe. Do you think they will accept an Islamic Emirate here, 30 minutes from Crete?

Europe and the West will not agree to chaos in Libya, to Libya exporting chaos and drugs. We will end up as a colony of Europe once again. Slaves in our own land!

Arab states too will dance with joy to see us fighting ourselves. Do we want that? Do we want to be weak and divided again? Libyans who live in Europe and USA, their children go to school. They are comfortable. They will be pleased to watch us kill ourselves, then come and rule Libya.

Tunisians and Egyptians who are here – they have weapons. They want to see us fight each other, then come in and divide Libya and take over the country.

What is happening in Bayda and Benghazi is truly terrible, sad. What if we end up divided once again? You who live in Benghazi, will you visit Tripoli with a visa? Our country will be divided! Like North and South Korea, we will see each other through a barbed wire fence. You will wait in line for months for a visa to see you brothers and sisters. Madness.

Imagine! Instead of crying over 200 deaths we will cry over 100,000 deaths. People will run from our beautiful country. There will be nothing here. No tourism. There will be no bread in Libya. Bread will be more expensive than gold.

We have to maintain national unity to avoid this disaster.

We have to maintain national unity to avoid this disaster.

Too much is at stake.

The protesters say “We want democracy and rights!”

Let’s talk about that. I am ready to talk.

I admit it. We should have talked about it before. We have spent too much time thinking about oil and money, and not enough time thinking about people, about what’s right.

I am ready to talk. I am ready to meet leaders of the protesters. I guarantee their safety.

We can ask our friends in other countries or at the UN to agree the rules for meeting safely and in peace.

I am ready to talk about new media laws.

I am ready to talk about civil rights, for an end to stupid punishments.

I am ready to talk about a new constitution. I am ready to talk about autonomous rule, with limited central government powers. Brothers and sisters, there are 200 billion dollars of projects at stake right now. Let’s not throw our own future into the dust and hit it with our shoes!

I am ready to talk about a new Libya, a new flag, a new anthem.

Brothers and sisters! We have two choices.

We can start to talk now. We can step back from the brink.

Or we can leap into a burning cave and die.

I am ready to talk. But I will not talk under threats. I can’t talk to screaming mobs.

Please understand my words. The Army and National Guard are loyal to Libya. They love their country. They love the people.

They will defend this country. They will not let it be divided. 60 years ago they defended Libya from the colonialists, now they will defend it from senseless division.

Yes, thousands of people are protesting. But millions of Libyans want to live normally in a peaceful honourable country.

Let’s stop shouting and fighting. Let’s start to do things better.

We are rich in oil. Let’s be rich in democracy and peace too.


Speech C: A televised address to the nation by the First Lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos
"People of the Philippines, tonight I want to share with you a problem which has been troubling me for many years. As a child growing up in Manila and Leyte I was always obsessive about cleanliness. I always kept my bedroom tidy and liked to have clean clothes to wear every day. When I was crowned Miss Philippines I saw this as a reward for my commitment to cleanliness.

In recent years this obsession has got steadily worse. Now I cannot wear a pair of shoes for more than an hour or two before I think of them as unclean and not fit to be worn any longer. My dear husband and your great leader Ferdinand has always supported me through this terrible illness.

But we both need your help. We need your money to pay for a constant supply of new shoes. We are very grateful to you for the money you have so kindly donated so far and are touched to see so many people demonstrating in the streets demanding to be allowed to pay more. We have heard your message and hope that, now that you understand why we need the money, you will be even more generous. I now ask you to return to your homes and to your jobs so that you can earn the money we so desperately need.

We know that we can count on you, the people of the Philippines, to help us. We know that we will enjoy your continued support through this difficult time. Thank you, may God bless you and goodnight."


Speech D:
Friends, Libyans, Countrymen! Lend me your ears.

I come to bury Colonel Gadaffi, not to praise him.

I’m not going to read to you from a document.

But speak to you from the heart.

I’m not going to address you in classical Arabic.

But talk to you in Libyan.

Above all, I’m not going to hide from you.

I’m going to say it as it is.

And it may be a bit messy. But it’ll be me.

We now have a huge opportunity for change.

It’s an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

We’ve seen it happening in Egypt, in Tunisia…

…and now, here, in Libya.

Not change brought about by foreign governments.

Not change brought about by traitors.

But change brought about by us, the people.

And there are some who are trying to resist that change.

So I say to you very simply:

Go back to your constituencies – and prepare for government.


Speech E:
My dear friends. My people. I speak to you tonight, or yesterday if you have degenerate recording technology from Western running dogs, on an issue which I am passionate about, as you are if you know what is good for you. And your country. The issue is, of course, me. Your dear leader and protector.

In the past days, thugs and bandits, armed with deadly golf clubs and tennis balls savagely looted from the royal palace leisure centre and spa, have been causing mayhem in our streets. My loyal guards, protected only by our meagre force of seventy armoured personnel carriers and a mere twelve fighter jets, have had to take precious time from their lunch breaks to quell the riots.

Some of the violent protesters have deliberately run in front of our brave soldiers as they were firing their weapons harmlessly toward open ground. There have been some casualties, perhaps three or four and not the fifteen hundred claimed by the western media, controlled by those who would see our brave nation fall.

I say to you, my people, pay no heed to those who would speak of “freedom and democracy”. You have everything you need under my benevolent and gracious rule, and should you wish for more, make an appointment to see my personal team of advisors who will persuade you otherwise.

I am, of course, still fully in charge of the nation, and not, as my enemies have suggested, on board a private jet bound for Argentina. Pay no heed to wicked rumours propogated by socialist media such as Tweeter and Facebooking.

it is time for you all to rally behind your leader. I know what the nation needs at this dark time. Put down your rudimentary weapons and go back to work. Otherwise I, or rather you, stand to lose a great deal. Thank you . Long live me.

F: Mugabe's Last Stand

The West proclaim the winds of change blow through Africa once more.
They can't contain their pleasure.
Their smugness betrays them.
It clings to every word.

But these aren't the winds of change that blew in the past.
The winds which freed us from the bonds of slavery.
The winds which spared us from the blight of exploitation.
The winds which saved us from the suppression of our colonial masters.

These aren't winds founded on freedom or liberation.
These aren't winds at all.

These are fires.
Fires fuelled by exploitation.
Fires stoked by the resource thirsty tyrants of the West.
Fires lit to incinerate the fabric of our culture.

The West have learned that regime change doesn't work.
Afghanistan and Iraq have failed.
They have failed for two reasons.
Their cultures, like ours, are unsuited to democracy.
Their governments, unlike yours, are under Western control.

The West have learned that regime change doesn't work.
They are not prepared to risk it a third time.

Zimbabwe,
Believe me.
The West are not empowering a change of regime.
The West are implementing a change of policy.

A return to the policy of the past.
A return to the policy of exploitation.
A return to colonisation.

If controlling the government doesn't work,
become the government.

You are hearing whispers of a better future from people who are faceless.

You are not hearing firm declarations from the leaders of the future.
You are not hearing solid plans to deal with the problems of today.
You are not hearing robust proposals to pay off the debts of the past.

Why are there no leaders
no plans and
no money?

Because they don't exist.

The whisperers exist.
The rumour mongers exist.
Enemies always exist.

Waiting to exploit you,
your family,
and your future.

Whether we like it or not
this policy of African exploitation is a political fact.

So I ask you to take a moment,
take a deep breath,
and take a step back.

Take a step back from the future of their making.
So, together, we can march forward
to a future of our choosing.


G: (former) President Mubarak:

I am here today to speak to you
not as your President
but as a fellow Egyptian

I know you’re angry,
You’re frustrated
And you’re hungry for change

We’ve come a long way together
I’ve served you as your President for nearly 30 years
And I hope I have served you well

Now, as you line the streets
The world is watching

We have not had an easy journey together
Our struggles with our neighbours
And each other
have been difficult over the years
And now is no different

But we stand at a precipice
A turning point in history
And we must choose the right path
Or risk losing everything we have built together

I have heard your call for Democracy
And I accept it
The time has come for a new Egypt

An Egypt of strong citizens
Who will strengthen our nation
And build a new future for us all

But if I were to step down today
I would leave the nation in uncertainty
With terrorists,
foreign governments
and other enemies of Egypt
looking to use this chaos
to undermine and attack
the principles of freedom and democracy
that we all seek

I know I should have done more before today
But I ask you now
To let me stand with you
And deliver the change that we so desperately need

I can announce today that I will be appointing a reforming cabinet immediately
Who will set a timetable for an urgent election

And once an orderly transition is in place over the coming days
I will step down
and allow the Prime Minister to oversee new, free and fair elections
to deliver the hope of a new Egypt,
and fulfil the promise of this new generation!

So I ask you all
return to your jobs, your homes and your families
and together we will start a new chapter in our history

May the peace and mercy and blessings of Allah be upon us all.