26 September 2012

A generous audience for Clegg - but why on earth draw attention to it?

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In previous years, I've criticised Nick Clegg (and/or those advising him) for the decision to go for the management guru stye of delivery in his leader's speech - i.e. wandering around the stage pretending that he's not using a teleprompter.

So the big plus this year was to see the Deputy Prime Minister looking rather more statesmanlike than usual by the simple device of staying firmly at the lectern.

But there's another important lesson he still has to learn: if a particular line goes down well with your audience, don't comment on it or otherwise draw attention to it.

This particular joke (scroll in about 20 seconds) was, perhaps predictably, the first sound bite from the speech to be tweeted by BBC television's @daily_politics shoe - and will probably make it on to some of tonight's prime-time news programmes.

It was so successful that it triggered a massive 23 seconds of applause (i.e. 15 seconds more than the standard 8 seconds burst).

But surely it's far better to leave the audience to draw their own (positive) conclusions about what they've just seen and heard than to comment on the difference between what you'd expected and what had happened. All that achieves is to highlight the scripted calculated nature of the line in question - and perhaps also gives away that there'd been a good deal of discussion about it beforehand with your aides:

"I thought you'd groan rather than clap at that one, but anyway [slight laughter] what a generous audience."

It reminded me of a line Mrs Thatcher once used in the early 1980s, when she based her commendation of her foreign secretary, Lord Carrington, on a television beer advertisement of the day: "Yes, he really is the peer that reaches parts thaat other peers can't reach."

This prompted much laughter and applause, during which she could be seen (and just heard) saying "Oh, it did work, then..."

In this particular case, Nick Clegg's good luck is that, in order to include the unfortunate line, the the television news shows would have to play the whole 23 seconds of applause that comes before it - so it's unlikely to be seen by anyone other than anoraks like me (and/or readers of blogs like this one).

25 September 2012

Is Vince Cable (BA Cambridge, PhD Glasgow) really a pleb?



Unlike his audience at the Lib Dem conference, I'm not at all convinced that Vince Cable's BA from Cambridge and PhD from Glasgow qualifies him as a 'pleb'.

Nor do I think he would have got away with his attempt to affiliate with the working class if he didn't still have the remains of a Yorkshire accent...

19 September 2012

A neat contrast wins applause for Obama's talk show point about Romney



I may have been rather critical of President Obama's rather uninspiring (for him) acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, but was rather more impressed by his performance on the David Letterman Show last night, prompting as it did an interruptive burst of applause (scroll in 40 seconds) - just after he'd used a nice simple contrast:

"My expectation is that, if you want to be President, 
"you got to work for everyone, not just for some,  [APPLAUSE STARTS] 
"and thee uh--"[APPLAUSE  CONTINUES]

As noted elsewhere on this blog (and in my books), the contrast is one of the most important rhetorical devices for triggering applause in political speeches. And, as is evident from this example, it can work in the same way in other settings too (e.g. TV interviews).

18 September 2012

Does Mitt Romney's mouth move faster than his brain?



I've not studied Mitt Romney's style of speaking in much detail, but there may be a clue in his latest gaffe (above) as to why I'd felt there was something a bit odd about him.

It's the sheer speed at which he speaks.

Speeches by effective public speakers are delivered at about 120 words per minute, which is much slower than the 180 words per minute found in conversations between native speakers of English (see my books).

But in the sequence that got him into so much trouble, Mr Romney manages about 200 words per minute - i.e. 20 words per minute quicker than conversation.

Apart from the fact that this is abnormally fast for a conversation (let alone a speech) it raises two intriguing quetions:

  1. Is he speaking too quickly for his brain to be able to produce carefully considered and/or 'elegantly stated' opinions?
  2. How, in American culture, is 'fast-speaking' likely to be regarded by the wider public?

For what it's worth, to my British ears, 'fast-speaking' tends to have mainly negative connotations...


13 September 2012

B- for the Duchess of Cambridge's second speech (and/or her PR team)



After the Duchess of Cambridge's first speech (HERE), one of the comments on YouTube said: "Extremely annoying how she reads the script every 2 seconds, that was most likely written by her PR team."

But the overall consensus was that, for a first effort, it wasn't too bad at all.

Second effort though this one may have been, the rather carping comment above seems even more appropriate than last time - or at least raised a number of questions.
  • Had she rehearsed the speech and, if so, how many times?
  • How was the speech laid out on the two pages she was using?
  • Why hadn't the height of the microphone been fixed before she started to speak?
  • Had the sign in the background been properly secured?
  • Why was there a gap on the left of the sign that allowed a police woman disguised as Princess Anne (and various other people) to peer out an distract the wider audience?
Or, to put it more bluntly, with the resources available to the royal households, why on earth don't they bother to get the basics right>



A silent Hillsborough apology from The Sun's current editor



Last night's TV coverage of the Hillsborough disaster report included what looked like a rather amateurish self-filmed statement by Dominic Mohan, the current editor of The Sun.

Curious to see it again, I looked it out on YouTube, but all that was there was this silent version of the said statement, raising the question of whether it could by any chance have happened by accident...

With sound
Since posting the above, I've tracked down the complete version on The Sun website - where the 'amateurish self-filmed' appearance of the above is explained: it was produced by The Sun for posting on their own website.

However, it still sounds as though it were hastily scripted or poorly rehearsed - or both. I'm also not very impressed by the fact that the Sun's current editor still seems to be trying to pass the buck to the South Yorkshire Police:

10 September 2012

A classic of barnstorming speechifying from Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan



Compared with some of the speeches he made in the run-up to the last presidential election, Barack Obama's acceptance speech at last week's Democratic Convention deserved little more than a B-.

I know this because BBC World got me to watch the whole thing and make a few comments on it the morning after he made it (and "few" was the operative word).

But there had been some quite startling speeches that were never seen on this side of the Atlantic, one of which was brought to my attention by my old friend John Heritage of UCLA, who's still keeping an eye on speeches and referred to this one as "a small classic of truly barnstorming speechifying!"

3 September 2012

Mitt Romney's US = Unbearable Smugness



On the day of President Obama's inaugural speech in 2009, I blogged about a line I didn't want to hear in his speech (here):

"If there’s one thing that irks me about speeches by American presidents, it’s their tendency to overstate the case for their country being the first, finest or only example of freedom and democracy in the world."

And, to be fair, he obliged by avoiding any such extremes of smugness.

But there will, I fear, be no such luck if Mitt Romney makes it to the White House.

Having watched his acceptance speech a couple of times, I'm finding it difficult to decide which of the following I find more annoying: the fact that he uttered these lines at all, or the rapturous response they triggered from the audience:

"like all  Americans who went to bed that night knowing that we lived in the greatest country in the history of the world" (scroll in 9:40 minutes).

"When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American." (Scroll in 10:20 minutes).

(See also: 'Mirror mirror on the wall, whose is the fairest democracy of all?')