31 October 2011

TV talk about prices: "£499" = a lot, "4-9-9" = a little


Not long after starting this blog, I had a slight moan about the way in which more and more TV advertisements were referring to prices in a way that bears little or no relationship to the way we talk about prices in everyday conversation (for more on which HERE):

"Commercials are telling us that an armchair priced at two hundred and ninety nine pounds costs 'two-nine-nine' and that a three-piece suite priced at four hundred and ninety nine pounds can be ours for 'four-nine-nine'. "

At the time, I suggested that there were two reasons why they were doing it:

"One is that it avoids having to mention high-sounding numbers like 'ninety' or 'a hundred'. The other is that these shorthand digital options save on costly air time: there are only three syllables in 'four-nine-nine' compared with eight syllables in 'four hundred and ninety nine pounds', which takes more than twice as long to say."

Three years later, this peculiar way of talking about prices is not only still on our screens, but the first of these reasons is arguably becoming rather more explicit. For example, in the above ad from Currys and PC World, we're told that we get "four hundred pounds off" for a first product that only costs "four-nine-nine", while the next one is "only five-nine-nine" or "four hundred pounds off".

In other words, the full (normal conversational) form is used to emphasise what a lot you "get off", whereas the digital (odd-sounding form) is used to emphasise how little the actual price is.

I can see how the ad agencies have managed to persuade their clients of the logic behind this bizarre usage, but very much doubt whether they have much in the way of hard evidence that it has the desired impact on TV viewers (for more on which, see HERE).

25 October 2011

Did Mr Lickley pause for longer than usual at this particular point in the Tabak trial?

Reports of the prosecution's closing statement to the jury at the trial of Vincent Tabak on the BBC and Sky News websites, have reminded me of what got me interested in studying rhetoric and persuasive language in in the first place.

Both websites cited, presumably verbatim, a contrast, the second part of which is a three-part list from the speech by prosecution barrister Mr Lickley:

"Vincent Tabak is very clever, he is intelligent.
"There is another side to Vincent Tabak. He is dishonest, deceitful and he is a liar."


In response to such rhetoric in a political speech, an audience might well have responded with applause. But in studying courtroom language, there was a methodological problem, summarised in an earlier post on the subject as follows:

'We had plenty of tapes of court hearings, but the absence of any audible responses from jurors during the proceedings meant there was no way of knowing which parts of what was being said were having a positive impact on the audience that really matters.

'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.)' - for more on which, see HERE.

Tapes of court hearings?
Earlier this year, in a blog on Televising the Supreme Court: one small step towards a giant leap, I made the point that the original reasons for banning cameras and television from our courts had disappeared long before Paul Drew and I wrote Order in Court: the Organization of Verbal Interaction in Judicial Settings (Macmillan Press, 1978). Yet the best data we could get from courts in the UK had to come from observations and transcripts - though. ironically, we never had any trouble copying audio-tapes of American trials from colleagues in the USA.

More than 30 years later, the same constraint still applies, so that anyone anyone else foolish enough to take a technical interest in the detailed workings of courtroom language will still have to make do without access to the raw material of live recordings. Meanwhile, Sky News (perhaps from rather dubious financial motives) has been doing its best to break through the barriers (e.g. HERE, not to mention its recent coverage of the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor).

The core methodological frustration is still with us
As I was still working at the Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies after writing Our Masters' Voices in 1984, people used to ask, quite rightly, if the findings had any implications for speeches made to jurors in courts - and I'd very much like to have been in a position to give them an empirically grounded answer.

As far as we could tell from the American tapes to which we had access, exactly the same rhetorical techniques were being used in prosecution and defence statements to juries. But, at the points where applause would have occurred in a political speech, counsel were tending to pause for longer than usual - as if they were allowing the jurors time to engage in 'mental applause' and approval for the point they had just made.

On the basis of trials I've observed in English courts, I'd say that much the same seems to happen here too. But, so long as researchers aren't allowed access to actual recordings, it's impossible to check this against hard evidence.

My guess would be that the prosecutor in the Tabak trial at Bristol Crown Court probably did pause for longer than usual after making the point that was quoted on the BBC and Sky News websites earlier today. But, without being able to listen to actual recordings, we shall never know...

Professional broadcasters should beware of saying "um" and "er"



The previous post on a famous broadcaster who speaks more effectively on television and radio than when he's lecturing (Melvyn Bragg) reminded me that there are also some professional broadcasters who punctuate their reports and interviews with rather more "ums" and "ers" than they should.

Someone I've noticed doing this is Adam Boulton, political editor of Sky News. On turning to YouTube for possible examples, even I was surprised that I had to look no further than the very first clip I came across (above), in which you'll hear 37 "ums" and "ers" in 150 seconds - at a rate of about one every 4 seconds.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE: Ums and Ers
• Needless noises?
A normal feature of conversational speech is the way we punctuate much of what we say with ums and ers. But, for audiences trying to listen to a speech (or broadcast) this can become a major source of irritation, because presenters who retain their normal conversational umming/erring rate come across as hesitant, lacking in confidence, uncertain of their material and badly prepared.

• Don’t worry – I’ve started
In conversation, one of the commonest places for ums and ers is right at the start of a new speaker’s turn, where we use them to avoid what might otherwise be heard as a potentially embarrassing silence - by indicating: "I'm not being impolite or disagreeable but am about to respond any second now". But some public speakers (and broadcasters) make a habit of starting almost every new sentence with an um or an er, of which they’re typically completely unaware of until they hear themselves on tape - when most are appalled by the negative impact they must have had on their audience.

• Hold on – I haven’t finished yet
Another place where we often um or er in conversation is when we suddenly find ourselves stuck for a word or name we need to be able to carry on. We know that, if we simply stay silent while searching for the word, someone else will use the pause as a chance for them to speak, thereby preventing us from finishing whatever it was we were about to say. So saying um or er is a simple and effective device for letting everyone know that you haven’t finished yet and that it’s still your turn.

• When pause-avoidance loses its point
If the primary functions of ums and ers in conversation are to avoid silences and reduce the chances of being interrupted, they lose their point in presentations and broadcasts. After all, presenters are not competing to hold the floor in the same was as in everyday conversation and, once in full flow, they certainly don't need to keep reminding us that they've just started a new sentence. As a result, umming/erring rates that would be perfectly normal and hardly noticed in everyday conversation stand out as needless distractions when heard from the mouths of presenters.

In defence of Mr Boulton?

In the particular clip above, it could be argued that Adam Boulton's umming/erring reflects his uncertainty in the face of two things that are new to him: (1) the gadget he's showing to the interviewer (and us) and (2) giving a televised

Tomorrow's World style demonstration that's far removed from his natural habitat of political interviewing and reporting.


But the reason I started looking for a video clip of him in the first place was that I'd often noticed (and been surprised by) the frequency of his umming and erring in his regular contributions on Sky News.

Nor, would it appear, am I alone in having done so - as his was one of the names mentioned on Twitter yesterday after I'd invited people to guess the identity of the umming/erring television news presenter about whom I was planning a blog.


P.S. BBC policy on ums & ers?

Long ago, I seem to remember being told that BBC Radio's policy towards editing out ums and
ers had changed over the years and I'd be curious to hear confirmation that this was indeed so (or not). Does anyone know whether that there was a time when all ums and ers were edited out of recorded BBC interviews with inexperienced interviewees as a matter of course, followed by a period when all of them were left in (to ensure greater 'authenticity') and eventually ending up with a 50:50 compromise in which some, but not all, were deleted? Or am I just dreaming?

21 October 2011

Effective broadcasters aren't always effective public speakers: the case of Melvyn Bragg

In his autobiography, the late Professor A.J. Ayer, noted that he'd been surprised to discover, when appearing long ago on BBC Radio's The Brains Trust, that broadcasting was very different from lecturing - in that it worked perfectly well for him and the other participants to speak at their normal conversational speed.

Last night, on the way out of Wells Cathedral after a lecture by Melvyn Bragg, I overheard a conversation between two other members of the audience that went as follows:

A: "There was too much to be able to take in."
B: "And he kept rambling off the subject with too many digressions."

I resisted the temptation to intervene with the strangers to express my complete agreement that he had indeed tried to cover far too much ground in a lecture that was also sadly lacking in structure and direction.

To these complaints, I would have added: "He also spoke far too quickly for a lecture, and especially one that went on for far too long" (i.e. 90 minutes).

Lecturing v. broadcasting
Bragg is, of course, a very experienced award-winning broadcaster - whose South Bank Show was seen as so crucial to London Weekend Television's franchise bid (after the 1990 Broadcasting Act) that he was one of a small group of staff who were paid multi-million pound 'golden handcuffs' to keep them with the company during and after the bid.

But, unlike Professor Ayer, he doesn't seem to have realised that lecturing calls for a rather different pace than broadcasting - not least because listeners are up against problem of trying to stay awake and pay attention to a far longer stream of talk than is ever the case in any of his television or radio programmes (or in everyday conversation, where the average length of turns at talk is about 8 seconds).

For radio listeners, eavesdropping on conversations, even intellectual ones like those on Bragg's In Our Time on BBC Radio 4, is easy enough. But he needs to learn that pausing much more frequently, and for much longer than you would ever do in a conversation (or on radio), is crucial to effective public speaking - and that includes lecturing.

In conversation, native speakers of English talk at a rate of about 180 words per minute, whereas the speed of effective public speakers is 120 words per minute (for more on which, see Lend Me Your Ears).

In this clip from a lecture by Melvyn Bragg marking Darwin's bicentenary at the Natural History Museum (where the acoustics sound remarkably similar to Wells Cathedral), the pauses are so infrequent and so short that his rate of delivery is just over 161 words per minute - i.e. much closer to conversational/broadcasting speeds than to the ideal for effective public speaking (longer version of video HERE):

video

Melvyn Bragg in his more natural broadcasting habitat
For comparative purposes, here's a clip of the conversational Melvyn Bragg interviewing Gore Vidal on the South Bank Show:

20 October 2011

Gaddafi as orator: a life in quotes - with thanks to Al Jazeera

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, I've been a regular visitor to the AlJazeera website to keep up with the latest news.

Today, they've posted a collection of quotations from Gaddafi which make fascinating reading - not just in themselves, but because most of them are even more bizarre than any of the entries to the 'doomed dictators speechwriting competition' earlier this year.

Al Jazeera's post on Gaddafi's oratory:
As soon as Muammar Gaddafi seized power in Libya in 1969, at the age of 27, he launched into a perplexing and controversial career as a speech-maker that now spans more than 40 decades. In scattershot diatribes that at times stretched to several hours, Gaddafi astounded audience at Libya and abroad.

Famously dubbed the "mad dog of the Middle East" by Ronald Reagan, the former president of the US, Gaddafi did little to dispel that nickname in his wild orations and writings. In 1975, he outlined his political philosophy in "The Green Book" which carried the subtitle, ""The Solution to the Problems of Democracy; The Social Basis to the Third Universal Theory."

No matter how he is remembered by history, Gaddafi’s legacy as an orator is assured. Here are some famous Gaddafi-isms from his nearly 42 years in power:

"I am an international leader, the dean of the Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa and the imam of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level."
Remarks to a crowd including King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and having his microphone cut on March 30, 2009, as quoted by The Scotsman in the article "Gaddafi walks out of summit after attack on Saudi king" by Salah Nasrawi.

"There is no state with a democracy except Libya on the whole planet."
Spoken at a conference at Columbia University in New York City on March 23, 2008.

"I am convinced that the [Israel-Palestine] solution is to establish a democratic state for the Jews and the Palestinians, a state that will be called Palestine, Isratine, or whatever they want. This is the fundamental solution, or else the Jews will be annihilated in the future, because the Palestinians have [strategic] depth."
— Interview with Al Jazeera, March 27, 2007

"If a community of people wears white on a mournful occasion and another dresses in black, then one community would like white and dislike black and the other would like black and dislike white. Moreover, this attitude leaves a physical effect on the cells as well as on the genes in the body."
— Excerpt from "The Green Book" (1975)

"[Abraham] Lincoln was a man who created himself from nothing without any help from outside or other people. I followed his struggles. I see certain similarities between him and me."
— Pulbished in The Pittsburgh Press on August 3, 1986, in the article "Gadhafi, the man the world loves to hate" by Marie Colvin.

"Irrespective of the conflict with America, it is a human duty to show sympathy with the American people and be with them at these horrifying and awesome events which are bound to awaken human conscience. When I was five, my brother was shot by an Israeli soldier, since then I have been dedicated to uniting the Arab countries throughout the Middle East and retain a trade flow with the West."
— Reaction to the September 11, 2001, attacks as quoted by CBSNews.com on September 12, 2001.

"All right, then nobody can complain if we ask pregnant women to make parachute jumps."
Defending his belief that women's "defects" meant that their place was in the home as quoted by TIME on July 23, 1975.

"Libya is an African country. May Allah help the Arabs and keep them away from us. We don't want anything to do with them. They did not fight with us against the Italians, and they did not fight with us against the Americans. They did not lift the sanctions and siege from us. On the contrary, they gloated at us, and benefited from our hardship…"
Interview with Al Jazeera, March 27, 2007

"There is a conspiracy to control Libyan oil and to control Libyan land, to colonise Libya once again. This is impossible, impossible. We will fight until the last man and last woman to defend Libya from east to west, north to south."
audio message broadcast on Al-Ouroba TV, a Syria-based satellite station, on August 25, as oppostion forces began as assault on Tripoli.

Related posts on speeches in Arabic:

19 October 2011

A not very fantastic speech from Dr Fox














Resignation speeches tend to be at their best when a cabinet minister has taken the initiative to resign, as in the cases of Sir Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Robin Cook.

So I wasn't expecting much from the statement by the departing Dr Fox in the House of Commons earlier today. Nor did we get very much.

Beforehand, journalists on Twitter were getting very excited:
"Liam Fox just entered commons after govt chief whip Patrick McLoughlin scanned chamber" @nicholaswatt

"Fox has arrived" @paulwaugh

"Fox arrives. Sits on back bench" @MichaelLCrick

During and after the speech, they weren't impressed:
"Astonishing stuff from Fox. Apparently doesn't realise he's done anything wrong. It's all the evil meeja out to get him, right?" @dlknowles

"Fox has the brass neck to blame the media for his downfall." @ayestotheright

"If it weren't for the media, Liam, you wouldn't have been found out. A bit rich to have a go at us now." @MASieghart

"Too much like an Oscar acceptance speech"
This tweet, from @AndrewSparrow of The Guardian, summed the whole thing up - and with a nice touch of irony...

More reactions:

15 October 2011

Two engaging women speakers from British politics - and two models for powerful women?


During the Labour Party conference last month, I raised the question of whether some of the party's leading women, such as Yvette Cooper, Caroline Flint and Harriet Harman, are better speakers than the party's current generation of leading men.

Shirley Williams
On hearing the 81 year old Shirley Williams speaking at the Wells Literary Festival the other night - along the lines of the above from a similar speech she made at the Stratford-upon- Avon Literary Festival - I realised that there's nothing particularly new about effective women speakers holding their own with their male contemporaries and rising to the higher reaches of the Labour Party (and later, in her case, within the SDP and Liberal Democrats too).

Long before Williams and the three male members of the 'gang of four' had broken away from Labour to form the SDP, she had been a cabinet minister in the Wilson and Callaghan governments. And, from quite early in her political career, she was sometimes mentioned as a possible first woman Labour leader and even as a possible first ever woman prime minister.

Although these both eluded her, she's still not only a very engaging speaker, but also one who's retained an energy to rival many, if not most, speakers who are very much younger than she is. During her brief stay in Somerset this weekend, she was making speeches and taking questions from 1930-2130 on Friday night and from 0930-1130 and 1230-1400 on Saturday (i.e. for about 50% of the waking hours she was here).

As if that wasn't enough, she was planning to spend her train journey back to London reading a few more hundred pages of the health bill and its amendments in the current House of Lords debate in which she is playing a very active part.

Barbara Castle
Twenty years older than Shirley Williams was another leading figure in Harold Wilson's Labour government, the late Barbara Castle. I haven't been able to find any clips of her speeches on YouTube - where there seem to be more of Miranda Richardson playing her in the film Made in Dagenham than there are of the real Mrs Castle - but some of us are old enough to remember that she too was a much better than average public speaker.

Here's a typically assured performance from her in a TV interview from the early 1970s about the resignation of a defence minister and press intrusion in the private lives of public figures - a curiously topical coincidence to remind us that some issues are still making the headlines four decades later:


Castle, Williams and the Thatcher solution
In Our Masters' Voices and some of the blog posts below (especially HERE), I suggested that Margaret Thatcher had found a solution to the professional woman’s problem of being damned if they behave like a man and damned if they behave like a woman by being tough and decisive in her actions while being uncompromisingly female in her external appearance – and that this was summed up by the nickname the 'Iron Lady’, capturing as it does both 'strength' and 'femininity'.

In this respect, Barbara Castle, regarded in her day as being as tough, glamourous and well-dressed, came much closer to the Thatcher model for women politicians than Shirley Williams ever did.

The Williams alternative
At the time of writing Our Masters' Voices, I remember suggesting somewhere that Mrs Williams represented a rather different available role-model for women in politics than the one offered by Thatcher and Castle: the 'intellectual', ' blue-stockinged', 'untidy', 'verging on scruffy' stereotype of the female Oxbridge don (or Women's Institute lecturer).

As for whether she consciously developed such an image, there are at least two pieces of evidence that she is certainly aware of it in retrospect.

One is that she actually referred, without any prompting, to her erstwhile reputation for having untidy hair during the talk she gave on Friday night.

Clothes + fashion = frivolous waste of time peddled by supercilious saleswomen
The other evidence comes in the first chapter of her autobiography, Climbing the Bookshelves (of which I'm now the proud owner of a signed copy), where she reveals that she already had little or no interest in clothes and fashion by the time she was 10 years old. Comparing herself with her mother, she writes:

'... she did allow herself some moments of frivolity. She loved clothes and used to take me with her while she tried on the elegant polka-dotted silk dresses and emphatic hats of the 1930s. A new hat or pair of gloves could lift her spirit for days. It was a pleasure I did not share. After the first ten minutes of each encounter with a supercilious sales lady, I began to think about ponies and tricycles, and to resent the waste of my time. These early experiences immunised me against both shopping and fashion. For years I bought the first thing that looked even vaguely as if it might suit me, though often it didn't.'

Related posts

12 October 2011

Imagery can take us to the frontiers of science - via scissors, generals and sentinels

People sometimes tell me that it's all very well to bang on about the power of using imagery to get messages across (as in 'Painting Pictures with Words', Lend Me Your Ears, Ch. 7 and various other posts on this blog), but that it won't help much if you're speaking about technical subjects, let alone taking an audience to the frontiers of science.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as can be seen in this clip from a TED talk by Professor Peter Donnelly, FRS, telling us about "chemical scissors which cut DNA whenever they see particular patterns":

video

A few days ago BBC Radio 4's Material World (listen again HERE) included a discussion of the contribution made by Professor Ralph Steinman who died just before being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology. In this sequence, we're told that T cells act "as the generals of the army" and dendritic cells which "instruct T cells who to attack".

Interviewer Quentin Cooper picks up on "the generals in the army" analogy and suggests that dendritic cells are "almost like military intelligence". "Precisely", agrees the interviewee, before dubbing them as "sentinels for the immune system" and developing the point further...

video

10 October 2011

50 years of Private Eye: a story of retail, rejection and recognition

It's supposed to be a sure sign of growing older when you start thinking that police officers and doctors are getting younger. Another is when you realise that more and more significant anniversaries are taking place of events you think of as recent memories.

For me, the latest reminder of this is the news that it's 50 years since the fortnightly satirical magazine Private Eye was first published.

Not only do I remember it well, but I was also an early salesman and have been a subscriber and (very occasional) contributor ever since.

Retail
Selling the Eye outside university cafeterias was my first serious business venture. Lord Gnome had rightly seen students as a promising source of potential readers and had invited volunteers to join his sales force.

Once a fortnight, all I had to do was to go down to the station and collect my 6o copies of the latest edition, then priced at 1/6d (one shilling and sixpence, or 7.5 pence in new money) - for which I had to pay 1/- (one shilling, or 5 pence in new money) each, leaving a net profit of 30 shillings (£1.50 in new money) per fortnight.

These days, 75 pence a week may sound like a pittance. But when pubs sold a pint of beer for the equivalent of 7.5 pence, it was riches indeed.

Rejection
For years, I tried unsuccessfully to get Private Eye to publish my hilariously funny (?) cartoons, only to be bombarded with rejection slips suggesting that I should send them to Punch magazine (now coming up to the 10th anniversary of its demise in 2002).

I also rather regret that nothing I've written has ever made it into Pseuds' Corner, even though I know that such acclaim can have embarrassing consequences. Someone (and we haven't forgotten who you are) had successfully submitted a sentence from article about conversational turn-taking that one of my best friends had published in a learned journal.

When I told him that I was rather envious because nothing of mine had ever got into Pseuds' Corner, he warned of the dire consequences such recognition can have. It had been published a few days before he was due in Cambridge to serve as external examiner in a PhD viva. As he put it "they already think we're mad enough to be doing conversation analysis in the first place, without being able to rub it in by waving Private Eye at me before the meeting started."

Recognition
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that I finally managed to extract a cheque from Lord Gnome for a photograph that I'd taken of the village sign outside a village in Northamptonshire that bore the legend "Silverstone - please drive slowly."

Even then, it had seemed like another rejection for the many months it failed to appear in the I Spy feature, making me grumpier by the fortnight. Then, to give them their due, it turned out that they hadn't binned it after all, but had merely been waiting, with the journalistic flair we expect from Private Eye, to publish it the week before that year's British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

More recently, the Eye published another photograph I'd taken of a fly-posted planning notice from Mendip District Council - at a time when they were wasting unspecified amounts of council-tax payers' money on a campaign against fly-posting notices of forthcoming village events on 'items of street furniture', i.e. MDC jobsworthy jargon for telephone and electricity posts... (continued on p. 94).

Listen again: Lord Gnome aged 49 and 3 quarters - Michael Crick, BBC Radio 4 (8th October - for another 6 days).

7 October 2011

The End of Summer - with thanks to Steve Jobs & Flipron

video

At this time last year, I posted a video clip of audiences clapping out the conference season (HERE).

This year, I've produced a compilation of members of a conference audience listening in rapt attention (?) with musical backing from Flipron's The End of Summer (from their album Biscuits for Cerberus). Much admired for Jesse Budd's lyrics and Joe Atkinson's brilliance on the keyboards, this particular sequence neatly catches a suitable mood for marking the end of the party conference season.

And thanks to Steve Jobs - without whom...
When I bought my first computer in 1985, I came very close to buying an Apple Macintosh but chickened out and bought an Apricot (with two slots for 750K floppy disks).

About twenty years later, while staying with John Heritage in Los Angeles, I found myself being marched into the student shop at UCLA, where he made me buy my first MacBook.

Since then, I quickly upgraded to a MacBook Pro, have acquired a desktop MacPro and have been using an iPhone since the first week of its launch in the UK.

To expand on all the many virtues of being liberated from the familiar nightmares of using a Windows computer would be to risk a very long and boring blogpost. So suffice it to say that the incredible reliability and ease of using the iMovie program that's built into Macs has saved me thousands of hours in preparing demo clips both for lectures and courses and for posting as examples on this blog.

For example, preparing this particular movie - including retrieval of the music, selecting and editing the clips and aligning them with the backing - took less than half an hour.

And, as if that's not enough to be grateful to Steve Jobs for, he also stood out among CEOs as an extremely effective presenter from whom there was much that other business leaders could and should learn.

More from Steve Jobs:

6 October 2011

Cameron's too good a speaker to be following Mrs Thatcher into the teleprompter trap

A couple of years ago, I posted some video clips showing how Margaret Thatcher's speech-making became less effective when she stopped using hard copy scripts and started reading speeches from teleprompter screens (HERE).

A few months later, I realised that I'd been mistaken in thinking that David Cameron was having problems reading from screens - as it turned out that he wasn't using an Autocue or any other form of teleprompter at that time (HERE).

Cameron follows Thatcher down the same hill
But yesterday Mr Cameron had not only taken to using a teleprompter for his leader's speech, but was also encountering the same kinds of difficulties that diminished Mrs Thatcher's effectiveness all those years ago.

When using a script on a lectern, she would return her eyes to the text, clear her throat and close her mouth after making an applaudable point, leaving no one in any doubt that the time had come for them to get their hands apart. But, when reading from teleprompter screens, her head stayed up gazing into space, with the result that her applause rate fell dramatically (video examples HERE)

And there were some rather long sections in Mr Cameron's speech yesterday where the lack of applause was noticeably absent

Here you can see see two examples of him falling into the same trap as Mrs Thatcher . In both cases, he sets up what's coming as an applaudable point. But in both cases, nothing happens for so long (2-3 seconds) that he's already carried on again by the time it finally does - at which point he has to break off.

Also in both cases he seems to acknowledge the glitch with a slight nod, indicating, perhaps: "yes, it is your turn and you should jolly well have started a bit sooner than that"?.

video

Given that Cameron is more effective than most of his contemporaries at speaking from scripts on a lectern, I'd advise him to ditch the teleprompter forthwith.

Or, if his aides have cooked up some reason that's convinced him it's a good idea, they should also convince him that he's going to need a lot more practice if he's to get anywhere near his effectiveness with old-fashioned scripts (or, for that matter, with no script at all, as in the 10 minute speech that clinched the leadership for him at the beauty parade in 2005).

4 October 2011

Swim or sink with the president of the European Commission

video

Preparing for speechwriting course in Brussels this week, I thought it would be nice to include an example of a 'local' using some of the main rhetorical techniques in one of my demo tapes.

Such are the wonders of YouTube that it took less than a minute to find this little gem from the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, which had been singled out for replaying in a news report on his 'state of the union' speech:

REPORTER: He said Europe has to move forward towards matching its monetary union with a real economic union among its member states:

PUZZLE: This is Europe's moment of truth.

SOLUTION: Europe must show that its more than 37 different national solutions.

CONTRAST (with swimming metaphor + alliteration): We either swim together or sink separately.

Not surprisingly, this selection of key rhetorical techniques worked well enough for it to be singled out by the media as a sound bite - but it didn't impress everyone.

Guess who doesn't want to be seen clapping
British readers may be interested to see that, of the five MEPs shown just before Mr Barroso starts speaking, the only one who doesn't join in with the applause is none other than Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP (the UK Independence Party).

Whether or not you're one of his supporters or opponents, it has to be admitted that his behaviour here is admirably consistent with his long-standing antipathy towards the EU.

3 October 2011

Osborne finds the Tories more enthusiastic about the coalition than they were a year ago








A recurring observation on this blog during last year's party conference season was that audiences at the Liberal Democrat and Conservative party conferences were rather lukewarm about the coalition government they had just formed (see below). This was indicated by the fact that applause for mentions of it tended to be either delayed or failed to reach the 'normal' 8 seconds burst (or both) - e.g. HERE and HERE.

But in George Osborne's speech earlier today, there was evidence of a greater willingness among Conservative party activists to show their approval of the coalition than they were at this time a year ago.

When the Chancellor commended the Liberal Democrats for "working as a coalition together in the national interest" (about 30 seconds into the above clip) the audience not only started clapping more or less straight away, but they also managed to keep it going for a healthy 10 seconds.

P.S. Blimey!
Since posting the above, I've just discovered that the whole speech can now be embedded from the BBC website - so serious anoraks can now watch it from beginning to end:









Conference season 2011 blogging update:
Last year's conference season posts:

2 October 2011

The snake (interview) that did for Nixon's reputation and the ladder (speech) that had saved it



The Frost-Nixon interview as the ultimate snake
Was it, I wonder, pure coincidence that BBC2's schedule last night included some archive footage of the original Frost-Nixon interview (including the above), followed by the film version of the events surrounding and leading up to it?

After all, the party conference season, with its mix of extended interviews with politicians, very short clips from their speeches and much longer clips from media commentators telling us what they're talking about, has yet to grind to a close.

From my point of view, having started the season by asking why our politicians are so willing to play snakes and ladders under media rules that give them little chance of landing on anything but a snake (HERE), the chance to see the Frost-Nixon film could hardly have come at a more appropriate time.

Here was a disgraced American president who thought himself smart enough to run rings around a talk-show host and salvage his reputation - only to be lured into landing on about as damaging a snake as David Frost and his media colleagues could ever have dreamt of.

The Checkers speech as the ladder that saved his career
A quarter of a century earlier, claims that vice-presidential candidate Nixon might have misappropriated campaign funds almost forced his withdrawal as President Eisenhower's running mate.

What saved him was not an interview, but the carefully crafted 'Checkers speech' (still ranked as the 6th greatest political speech on the American Rhetoric website).

Interestingly, both the name it became known by and much of its powerful impact derived from a simple anecdote about his children and a little cocker spaniel dog.

I think our current politicians could do worse than to watch both - and reflect on what a single interview and a single speech did for Nixon's political reputation.

Were they to do so, they might think again about what, if anything, they are gaining from their tacit collusion with broadcasters about the relative merits of interviews and speeches as alternative ways of communicating their messages (and conveying positive/negative images of themselves) to a wider public.

(You may have to put up with a 15 seconds commercial before this starts).