'Clap on the name': a practical tip for Ed Miliband and/or his speechwriters

Yesterday, I mentioned an example in Ed Miliband's first speech as Labour Party leader where the audience might have applauded more promptly had the two parts of a positive-negative contrast been written the other way around (HERE).

There were also some examples that reminded me of two posts back in March, showing how to use the 'clap on the name' technique to ensure that the applause comes in on time:
The basic principle is that you identify or hint at the identity of the person to be introduced or commended, say a few words about them and then name him or her (for more on which, see Lend Me Your Ears, pp. 324-327).

Miliband shows how to do it
In this first clip, the person being commended is identified (the deputy leader), there's a word about her (she's "fantastic") and her name then prompts instant applause:

Miliband shows how not to do it (1)
In this next sequence, announcing that he's going to talk about 'friends of mine who are standing down from the shadow cabinet' gives us a pretty strong hint about who they'll be. But going straight on to name Alistair Darling is enough to set the audience off and runs the risk of the first commendable point being drowned out by the applause.

But those weren't all the warm words he's got for Mr Darling, so he has to add the rest as a postscript after the applause has died down and the final "thank you" is then greeted with silence.

A sight revision of the script would have avoided any such glitches and ensured that the ovation came in exactly on cue. This would have been even more assured given that he actually had three complimentary things to say (though the triple sequence had been obscured by the applause).

Rewriting it along the following lines would have restored the power of the rule of three and, because the audience would have had more time to get ready for the name, they would probably have produced a longer and more enthusiastic burst of applause):

The first is someone who kept his cool amidst one of the worst economic storms in our economic history,
who we'll always remember for the way he steered Britain through that crisis
and to whom we all owe a big debt of thanks for what he did:
Alistair Darling<[INSTANT APPLAUSE]

Miliband shows how not to do it (2)
Immediately after that, the same thing happens again when he names Jack Straw too early, so that the other nice things he has to say about him have to be deferred until after the premature applause has died down. And, by starting where it did, the ovation again interrupts the flow of what would otherwise have been a perfectly effective three-part list:

In this case too, things would have gone more smoothly by simply changing the sequence to preserve the three-part list and leave the name until the end:

.. my second friend is one of the most loyal servants of our party,
someone who is Labour to his core
someone who is Blackburn to his core:

Nervous, awkward and inexperienced?
Technical details like this (and the ones discussed in the previous post) not only have implications for the audience, but also contribute towards media reporters drawing conclusions like the above, as they did after the speech.

The are also the kind of thing that led me to suggest over the last couple of days, both here and on Twitter, that there was some rather amateurish speech-writing on show.

For Mr Miliband and his supporters, the good news is that such problems are very easy to cure.

As a 'non-aligned' blogger, I'm obviously not offering my services or touting for trade from team Miliband. But they can mug up on all they need to know from Lend Me Your Ears or Speech-making & Presentation Made Easy, both of which are dirt cheap (or, as a marketing expert has told me to say, 'competitively priced').

Delayed applause for Ed Miliband's claims on the 'centre ground'

Interpreting where and when audiences applaud (or not) looks like being a major theme of this year's party conference season.

Yesterday, the media made much of the fact that Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman applauded when Ed Miliband declared that Labour's involvement in the Iraq war was was wrong - and was apparently chastised for doing so by David Miliband because she'd voted for it.
It now it looks as though this may have been the last straw for the older Miliband's 'graciousness' in the face of defeat and is about to drive him out of front-line politics.

Withholding applause
Some television news reports also showed us two top union leaders resolutely not applauding (and looking grumpy) while the rest of the audience clapped his announcement that he'd 'have no truck' with irresponsible strikes - which reminded me of a vintage TV BBC Newsnight interview in which Peter Snow pressed Francis Pym, a senior cabinet member in the Thatcher Government, for not applauding enough during a speech by Sir Geoffrey Howe, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (which you can see HERE).

Delayed applause
As regular readers may have noticed, this year's conference season is becoming a gold mine of examples of audiences delaying applause for key points that, if they agreed more unequivocally with them, should have prompted a rather more instant response.

Luke warm LibDem support for the coalition?
At the LibDem conference, this happened in the speeches by Nick Clegg (HERE) and Vince Cable (HERE) in response to warm words about the coalition. The mainstream media didn't seem to notice either of these hints that LibDem activists' support for the coalition might be rather less enthusiastic than the official line suggests it is.

Lukewarm Labour support for the 'centre ground'?
Given all the talk of 'Red Ed' a similarly contentious issue at the conference was whether the new leader really would be taking the party away on a leftwards journey from 'the centre ground'.

And, although the audience may have applauded instantly and enthusiastically towards the end of the speech when he dismissed the 'Red Ed' tag, their earlier response when he said that Labour must stay in the centre was rather more luke warm.

In this first clip, his aim to "shape the centre ground of politics" is met with silence. Then, when he goes on to say "if we are not this party, nobody else will be", it takes the audience just over a second to get their hands apart:

A few moments later, he produces a contrast (normally a sure-fire way to prompt instant applause) - "it's a generation that will fight for the centre ground, not allow it to be dominated or defined by our opponents" - at which point the audience delays for about 1.5 seconds before the clapping gets under way:

What do the delays mean?
There are at least three ways of interpreting these delays.
  1. Labour Party activists are not very enthusiastic about re-occupying the 'centre ground'.
  2. They don't believe that he means it given his attacks on New Labour throughout his leadership campaign (and in this speech)).
  3. The delays might have been the result of poor speech-writing.
On this third point, this was one of a number of contrasts in Miliband's speech that ended on a negative rather than a positive and prompted delayed applause. In other posts (HERE and HERE), I've pointed out that contrasts tend to work better when the negative comes first and the positive comes second.

So these noticeable delays may mean little more than that he and/or his speechwriters still have a quite lot to learn. If time allows, expect more blogging on this in due course....

Did David Miliband lose because he was too old and experienced?

A killer line from Ronald Reagan, then aged 73, in one of the 1984 TV debates with Walter Mondale (56) came when he said that he was not going to exploit for political purposes his opponent's youth and inexperience (HERE).

The joke served him well, but wouldn't work at all in the UK today - where increasing youthfulness and inexperience has been steadily becoming the norm among our leaders since Harold Wilson became Prime Minister at the tender age of 48 - as can be seen from the following two tables.

Table 1: Age and experience of current UK main party leaders

Age on

becoming leader

Years as an MP before

becoming leader










Table 2: Age and experience of Prime Ministers since Wilson

Age on

becoming leader

Years as an MP on

beoming leader






















'The torch has passed'?
Having heard Ed Miliband repeatedly reminding us that the Labour Party has passed to 'a new generation', I've been half-expecting him to go the whole hog and recycle the rest of a famous line from John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech about the torch having been passed to a younger generation.

But I don't think he will, because Kennedy wasn't just talking about youthfulness, but about what his generation had experienced:

"the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans - born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace ... "

For our current party leaders, the risk of evoking Kennedy is that the experience of active service in a world war contrasts rather too obviously with the that of 'being tempered by spending pretty much the whole of your adult life working for and as professional politicians'.

Or has the candle gone out?
When Anthony Eden (aged 58) took over from Winston Churchill (aged 81) as leader of the Conservative Party in 1955, my late mother-in-law considered him "far too young and inexperienced for the job of Prime Minister."

A bit extreme by today's standards, perhaps, but I can't help wondering if we've reached a point where the risk of being led into the next general election by someone as ancient as 50 may have played a part in Labour's rejection of David Miliband in favour of his younger brother.

Ed Miliband "gets it" in his bid to bond with the brethren

A problem for Oxford-educated Labour leaders is how to bond with the masses in general and the core vote in particular.

Harold Wilson did it by retaining enough traces of a Yorkshire accent to sound like 'one of them'.

In interviews and chat shows, Tony Blair occasionally (and rather unconvincingly) lapsed into 'Estuary English', inserting glottal stops at points where he would more usually have used a perfectly enunciated 't' sound.

Glo'al stops in Donny?
Having spent five years at school in Doncaster, I've often wondered how the town's most famous MP, having been parachuted into a safe seat by the Labour Party high command, was managing to get along with the locals.

One thing I'd already noticed was that Ed Miliband seems even keener than Tony Blair on glottle stops. You'll hear quite a few of them in this clip, even though they're quite alien to the regional accent in that part of South Yorkshire - where the sound is typically heard as proof that the speaker must be 'a bloody Southerner.'

"I get it..."
In yesterday's leadership acceptance speech (which can be seen in full HERE), another ploy was on show with the repetitive use of contemporary youthful jargon, in which the verb "to get" is preferred to more traditional verbs like to understand, to know or to appreciate - six times in a row in this particular sequence.

Now that Mr Miliband has got it (by which I mean, in case there's any ambiguity, the leadership of the Labour Party), it will be interesting to see whether he's got any more such folksy devices up his sleeve as he bids to bond with the broader masses.

Also of possible interest:

Labour Party leaders' acceptance speeches: Neil Kinnock, 1983; Ed Miliband, 2010

With the winner of the Labour Party leadership election to be announced over the weekend, the Miliband brothers and their speechwriters must be hard at work on the acceptance speech.

As they were children when Neil Kinnock was elected party leader in 1983, they may not have paid much attention to what was widely regarded at the time as a minor classic.

So to inspire them in their efforts, and allow others among us to wallow in nostalgia, here it is.

Introduced by the chair as a "wee, wee speech if it's possible" (!), it takes him about 2-3 minutes to get up a decent head of steam - but, after that, it's well worth watching:

Kinnock Part I (about 6 minutes):

Kinnock Part II (about 7 minutes):

P.S. Miliband's Acceptance Speech, (starts 2 minutes in) 2010:
You can now compare Neil Kinnock's effort directly with that of the new leader. A first impression that rather surprised me after a couple of viewings was that, compared with his mentor's speech, Miliband's script seemed a bit lacking in substance.

More lessons from Vince Cable's speech

A few weeks ago, I blogged, not for the first time, about the Business Secretary's speeches under the heading If you can't remember Vince Cable's best lines, nor can he!

And there were some pretty good lines in yesterday's speech at the LibDem conference that both got the audience going and were picked up by the media.

Yesterday, I blogged about what struck me the oddest moment in the speech (HERE), when the audience took three seconds to get their hands apart on being told that we must make sure that the coalition is good for the Liberal Democrats as well - echoing as it did an extended delay before the applause started at a similar point in Nick Clegg's conference speech (HERE).

Today, I've been intrigued by a few more potentially instructive details.

1. Applause for the 3rd item in a 4-part list
This first clip, from his opening reminded me of a speech from years ago by Neil Kinnock, who produced a sequence of five consecutive rhetorical questions - and the audience applauded after the third one.

Here, Cable's script lists four of his achievements since coming to office - and the audience comes in after the third one.

Notice also that he moves to "I've concluded that" immediately and with no gap after completing the fourth item, but that the audience interrupts his attempt to continue with another burst of applause - creating the (positive) impression that they're so enthusiastic that showing approval is more important than letting him continue to his concluding punch-line:

2. Why did 'Yah-boo' contrasts prompt delayed applause?
During the election, I blogged about how Vince Cable had shown that 'Yah-boo politics can win victories for the LibDems' during the TV Chancellors' Debate.

Although contrasts are among the most reliable ways of triggering applause, especially when used to construct an attack on opponents, there were at least two examples in yesterday's speech where they didn't work quite as well as they could have done.

In the first one, it may have been because the key word in the second part of the contrast - "hindsight" - wasn't delivered clearly enough. On first hearing, I thought he said "unsight" or "insight", and had to check the text of the speech to discover that it was actually "hindsight".

If the audience in the hall had the same problem, it's hardly surprising that it took a while for the penny to drop:

In this next example, he's also attacking the Labour Party, but there's another two seconds pause between the end of the second part of the contrast ('plan A') and the applause getting under way.

As for why this delay happened, two factors may have played a part. One is that, after ending the first part of the contrast ('plan B') with rising intonation, it would have worked better if he'd used more decisively falling intonation to finish off the second part.

The second is that, when using a teleprompter, the eyes stay looking up in the air, implying that the speaker is going to carry on - and can create ambiguity in the minds of the audience as to whether or not he's finished. As can be seen in the videos posted HERE, this was quite a problem for Mrs Thatcher when she abandoned hard copy on a lectern in favour of reading from an Autocue (after which, her applause rate fell significantly).

All of which is to suggest that Mr Cable could move his performance up a notch or two with a bit more practice at reading from autocue screens.

Other teleprompter posts:

Delayed applause for the coalition in Vince Cable's conference speech (at exactly the same point as in Nick Clegg's)

After the Deputy Prime Minister's leader's speech at the Liberal Democrat's conference, I posted a clip in which the audience delayed for two seconds before applauding when he said that the party could not be expected to be taken seriously if they had not joined in a coalition government (HERE).

I also pointed out that a delay of anything more than one fifth of a second is likely to be heard by viewers/listeners as significant.

But today there was an even longer delay of three seconds before they applauded after Vince Cable, deputy leader and Secretary State for Business in the coalition government, said this about the coalition government:

"we must make sure that it's good for the Liberal Democrats as well."

Evidence of weak support for the coalition by LibDem acivists?
There are two reasons why this extended delay was potentially even more significant than the one in Clegg's speech:
  1. It was not only the third "it's good for" in a row, but was announced as the final one in the list by the word "and..."
  2. It only attracted a pitiful four seconds of applause.
As regular readers of this blog (and/or) my books) will know, audiences regularly applaud after the third item in a 3-part list - and 4 seconds is only half the 'normal' duration of 8±1 seconds for a burst of applause.

Related posts

Party conference season prize competition

The video clips I posted a few days ago to show how simple objects can be used by speakers as visual aids to impress audiences - ranging from Neville Chamberlain's piece of paper to Margaret Thatcher taking her scissors to a £1 note (HERE) - have inspired me to launch another prize competition.

All you have to do is to suggest one object that any of the three main party leaders could use (or, in the case of Nick Clegg, could have used) to strike a chord with their audience during their 2010 conference speeches.

Keen anoraks are welcome to propose an object for each of the three party leaders, but one leader/object is perfectly acceptable.

1st: signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears.
3rd: signed copy of ВЫСТУПАТЬ ЛЕГКО (Russian version of Lend Me Your Ears).

How to enter
In 'Comments' below or email (via 'View my complete profile' on the left).

Closing date:
24 hours after the completion of David Cameron's speech at the Conservative Party Conference.

Delayed applause at a key point in Nick Clegg's conference speech

The way in which journalists monitor applause in political speeches and use it as a basis for assessing the effectiveness or otherwise of a speech is something that's fascinated me since writing Our Masters' Voices more than 25 years ago.

So I checked to see what columnists in The Guardian which had, after all, backed the LibDems at the election, thought of the Deputy Prime Minister's speech yesterday at the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Nor, given what I'd seen of it, was I surprised to find '..they gave him polite applause but no more than that' from Jackie Ashley and '.. it was telling that the silences came in the wrong places' from Julian Glover.

Apart from the fact that there were quite a few places where the audience refrained from applauding lines that should have been applauded, I was also struck by the fact that there were also quite a few instances of longish delays before the audience managed to get their hands apart.

Applause should be instant or early
The point about delayed applause is that, when the script and delivery are working well together, it should happen within a split second of the speaker finishing a sentence.

That's why contrasts and three-part lists are so effective, because they project a clear completion point where everyone knows in advance where the finish line is and that it's now their turn to respond - as happened after the third item in this 1987 speech by Paddy Ashdown when he was education spokesman for the Liberal-SDP Alliance:

Interruptive applause
Better still is to get the audience to start applauding early, because it gives the impression that they're so enthusiastic and eager to show their agreement that they can't wait - and the speaker ends up having to compete to make himself heard above the rising tide of popular acclaim.

One way to do that is to use a three part list, in which the third item is longer than the first two. So in this clip, the audience starts applauding Tony Blair just after he's finished the second of three items:

Delayed applause
In conversation, silences of anything more than about a fifth of a second before a next speaker starts to speak usually mean that some sort of trouble is on its way (refusals, disagreements, etc.).

In political speeches too, silence before the applause starts is not only noticeable, but also tends to create a rather negative impression - and the longer it lasts, the worse the impression is.

In response to the following question in Nick Clegg's speech yesterday, it takes the audience the best part of two seconds before they start to respond.

This may, of course, have had something to do with the fact that posing a question and leaving it to the audience to come up with a positive reply certainly isn't the most effective technique for winning applause*.

But the impression of a loyalist audience that's hesitant or reluctant to agree with the party's decision to join a coalition is not, I presume, the impression that the leadership wanted to get across.

* Details of the most effective techniques and how to use them are described in my book Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations (2004), Chapters 6-8).

P.S. A few hours after posting this, I received an email from someone who is at the LibDem Conference in Liverpool and who, as far as I know, I've never met before. It read as follows:

'Out of interest, the response in the overflow room where we didn't have any cameras on us was considerably more muted ... Might be true in all situations, but it was pretty noticeable.'

'Objects as visual aids': UK Speechwriters' Guild Conference, 2010

When Brian Jenner, founder of the UK Speechwriters' Guild asked me to do a 10-15 minute presentation at this year's annual conference, the challenge was to try to put into practice the advice of one of my heroes, the late Professor Sir Lawrence Bragg (for more on whom see HERE,), one of whose tips for lecturers was:

'There should be one main theme, and all the subsidiary interesting points, experiments, or demonstrations should be such that they remind the hearer of the theme. As in a picture, so in a lecture, the force of the impression depends upon a ruthless sacrifice of unnecessary detail.'

The 'one main theme' I selected was something I've blogged and written about before, namely how the use of an object as a visual aid can sometimes have an impressive impact when it comes to getting a point across your audience.

There were (of course!) three reasons why it struck me as a promising topic for a short talk at this particular conference.
  1. It was potentially relevant for an audience of speechwriters, most of whom would have had conversations, if not arguments, with their clients about whether to use PowerPoint or some other type of visual aid.
  2. Being able to show the audience actual examples makes it a subject that's much easier to speak about than to write about (as I'd discovered when writing about visual aids in my books on speech-making and presentation).
  3. It would give me a chance to give an implicit demonstration of a subsidiary theme that I'm also quite keen on, namely that short video clips are another type of visual aid that can help to get your point across with clarity and impact.
The video clips I used are posted above and the points I made about them went (roughly) as follows:

1. 'Peace on our time'
The picture of Neville Chamberlain holding up the piece of paper he and Hitler had just signed in Munich seemed a suitably famous example to feature on the opening title.

2. Holding up a boring paper
But the first time I realised that anyone could use a piece of paper to strike an instant chord with an audience was in the speech Ann Brennan gave at the SDP Conference in 1984 (for links to a fuller story of which, see the Claptrap series of posts HERE).

Her 'one main theme' was that the new party was failing to communicate with working class voters who'd become disaffected by the Labour Party. So we wrote a line that involved her holding up the background paper for the debate on equality in which she would be speaking.

It prompted immediate laughter and applause from the audience.

3. Paddy Ashdown holds up a newspaper (not on the video)
The next time I saw the impact a piece of paper could have was five years later on the tenth anniversary of Margaret Thatcher's premiership in 1989.

Someone in Paddy Ashdown's office had unearthed a copy of the London Evening Standard from 1979 that carried a front page headline announcing that she would quit after ten years. So he held it up during Prime Minister's Question Time in the House of Commons and asked if she intended to keep her promise.

The instant reaction was was laughter and uproar from MPs; the delayed reaction came with action replays of the sequence on prime-time TV news programmes later that evening.

But we also learnt something else - don't overdo it. A week or two later, he held up another newspaper during PMQ, only to be reprimanded by the Speaker for making such a blatant attempt to grab the headlines again.

4. Senator Scott Brown holds up a newspaper
The same technique goes down just as well with American audiences. In this clip, Scott Brown has just won the election to take over as Senator for Massachusetts following the death of Edward Kennedy. The audience is already chanting enthusiastically, but their chants turn into cheers and applause as soon as Brown holds up a newspaper with the headline 'He did it'.

5. Examples of other objects (1) a glass
Using an object can involve things as simple as holding up a glass and asking whether it's half- full or half-empty, or

6. Examples of other objects (2) currency notes
A year before the 1979 UK general election, when still leader of the opposition, Mrs Thatcher came up with a successful photo-opportunity by using a pair of scissors to cut through a £1 note to illustrate how much the pound had depreciated since Labour came to power (see the clip at P.P.S. below).

I've seen economists make some neat points whilst waving notes about. And the reason why this is a picture of a pre-Euro Spanish note is that I once worked with a client in Spain who had a stunning impact on his audience by setting fire to a 200 Peseta note to open his presentation.

7. Steve Jobs pulls a rabbit out of a hat
I blogged about this sequence a while back (and a more detailed analysis of his script can be seen HERE). The things to look out for are how the audience reacts when he (a) picks up the envelope, (b) takes the MacBook Air out of it and (c) holds it up in the air.

8. Bill Gates releases some insects from a box
In a TED talk on malaria and education, Bill Gates claims to release some mosquitos from a box in front of him.

9. Archbishop of York cuts his dog collar into pieces
During an interview on Andrew Marr's Sunday morning BBC TV show, Archbishop John Sentamu stripped off his clerical collar and cut it up into pieces to illustrate what Robert Mugabe has done to the people of Zimbabwe - a sequence that was replayed many times on the main news networks later that day.

10. Government minister throws his microphone on the table
At the 1982 Conservative Party conference, Robin Day inteviewed John Nott, who had been Secretary of State for Defence during the Falkland's war and had announced that he'd be resigning in the near future to join a merchant bank. When Day refers to him as a "here today gone tomorrow" minister, the Mr Nott announces that he's fed up with this interview, pulls off his microphone and throws it down on the table.

On the longer term impact of this sequence, there were two interesting footnotes. One was that Here Today, Gone Tomorrow resurfaced nearly ten years later as the title of John Nott's autobiography. Then, a few weeks ago, the sequence was featured in a Daily Telegraph article on the 'Top-ten Television Moments of the Eighties'.

11. More mundane objects can also work (not on the video)
A few years ago, I worked with a client who had built a very successful business manufacturing metal clips that hold lamps in place above streets and motorways. He'd been invited to speak about the fatal, legal and financial consequences that could result if any of the thousands of such products failed. He started his presentation to an audience of lawyers at a conference on product liability law by holding up one of the clips and explaining that everyone there had benefited from them, had driven under them but almost certainly didn't know what they were.

By the time he got to providing the solution to his puzzle, the audience was fully attentive and listened closely to the rest of his presentation

12. The swinging ball of death
The final clip came from one of the Christmas lectures for children by Professor Chris Bishop at the Royal Institution.

What surprised and fascinated me when I played this at the conference was that the rising 'woooooh' noise from the children and their response when the ball stopped just short of the speaker's head was echoed, with precision timing, by the conference audience as they watched the clip.

13. Conclusion: showing what you mean
As I noted at the beginning of this post, I'm a big fan of one of the founders of the Christmas Lectures for children and what he had to say about communicating science to wider audiences. It's to be found in a short booklet - Advice to Lecturers - published by the Royal Institution and consisting of writings by Lawrence Bragg and Michael Faraday, whose ability to take lay audiences to the frontiers of science used to fill lecture theatres until there was standing room only.

So I ended by quoting some lines from Bragg. Writing about how the interest of many distinguished scientists as first aroused by the Christmas lectures for children, he says:

"In recalling their impressions they almost invariably say not ' we were told' but 'we were shown' this or that."

A few lines later, he adds:

"The final result of the popular talk is measured by the extent to which the audience recalls it afterwards, and this fixation of the image is effected by arousing an emotional response of interest and thrill."

Chris Bishop's swinging ball of death achieved this both with the audience in the Faraday lecture theatre and, if the noises they made are anything to go by, with the audience in Bournemouth last week - demonstrating also that the traditions set by Faraday and Bragg are still alive and well at the Royal Institution.

For speechwriters, the moral of the story is that it's worth giving at least a few moments of thought as to whether there might be a suitable object that could bring 'interest and thrill' to the audiences for whom they are writing.

P.S. Given the third of my reasons for selecting this topic (at the start of this post) I was delighted when someone in my audience posted this on Twitter: V stimulating day in Bournemouth - @maxatkinson gave a terrific example of how to use (short) video clips as a visual aid.

Whether or not it also works on a blog post is something readers can judge for themselves...

P.P.S. Since posting this a few hours ago, a request in the original version - 'if anyone knows where I could get a copy of this, please let me know where' - has been answered by Chris Rodgers (via Twitter (@ChrisPRodgers), to whom I am very grateful indeed for sending the YouTube link. I was also mistaken in thinking it was 'during the 1979 general election', as it was in fact a year before that:

"We let it slip" - Governor of the Bank of England at the TUC

In the good old days (25+ years ago), you could watch speeches at the Trades Union Congress (and the rest of the conference season) live and continuously on television throughout the day.

Nowadays, we have to make do with short clips selected for us by TV news editors (or by people who post videos on YouTube).

Better than nothing, perhaps, but it will make it quite a challenge if anyone ever wants to check out and/or replicate what John Heritage and I did in 1981, which was to use our shining new Betamax VCRs to record 476 speeches at the three main party conferences that year (detailed results of which were published HERE in 1986).

Easier though the internet has made it to collect video clips these days, there are some irritating frustrations. Having made it possible to embed some of their videos in websites and blogs a couple of months ago, the BBC website now seems to have withdrawn this facility.

This is a pity, because I'd like to have juxtaposed this rather interesting statement from Mervyn King (for which, thanks to Sky News for its embedding option) with union leader Bob Crow's equally interesting explanation of why he wasn't going to listen to the governor of the Bank of England (which can be seen half-way down a page on the BBC website HERE).

Tony Blair can still deliver - even when it's only a platitude!

When it comes to timing, you really couldn't make it up.

In the wake of the "down with Blair" chorus that's greeted his memoirs in the UK, and with the Labour party poised to dump him and all his wares into the dustbin of history, up he pops on the other side of the Atlantic to receive the Liberty Medal for his role in the Northern Ireland and Middle East peace processes.

Cue much scorn and derision, no doubt, from voters in the Labour leadership contest.

Cue more scorn and derision from the same quarters as Bill describes him as a "wonderful world citizen".

Cue yet more of the same from the same at the (dubious) platitude he goes on to produce.

But like it or not, these two can still deliver - even from scripts that are a bit thin on content - and they still make all the contestants for the Labour Leadership look like amateurs in a student debating society.

Why are there so many novels and histories in the present tense?

There was a complaint in Saturday's Daily Telegraph that really struck a chord with me - not because I'd noticed the growing use of the present tense in novels, but because I've long been baffled (and irritated) by its routine use in historical programmes on radio and television.

Here's how the problem was reported in the Telegraph:

Leading authors have criticised the Man Booker Prize shortlist because half of it is made up of novels written in the present tense.

Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher claimed that the use of present tense is becoming a cliche.
Pullman, the best-selling children's author, was scathing over its use.

He said: "This wretched fad has been spreading more and more widely. I can’t see the appeal at all. To my mind it drastically narrows the options available to the writer. When a language has a range of tenses such as the perfect, the imperfect, the pluperfect, each of which makes other kinds of statement possible, why on earth not use them?"

He added: "I just don’t read present-tense novels any more. It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy."

The six authors listed for this year's prize are Peter Carey, Andrea Levy, Howard Jacobson, Tom McCarthy, Damon Galgut and Emma Donoghue. The first three authors' novels are in the past tense while the others written in the more "fashionable" style.

Hensher, whose novel The Northern Clemency was Booker shortlisted in 2008, said that writers were mistaken by thinking that using the present tense would make their writing more vivid. He said: "Writing is vivid if it is vivid. A shift in tense won't do that for you."

History in the present tense
A few days ago, I heard a programme on BBC Radio 4 that told us:

"Londoners are preparing themselves for the blitz..." Er, yes the were doing that in 1940, but are not, thankfully, preparing themselves for it 70 years later.

Then, on a BBC television programme over the weekend, we heard (or should I say "we hear"?) this from Charles Hazelwood:

"Mendelssohn visits London for the first time in 1829 ... over the years he becomes a close friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert..."

And you'll soon be able to hear about the past in the present tense every week with the return for another season of Melvin Bragg's inappropriately named history of ideas programme In Our Time (i.e. In Their Time Long Gone By).

Why do they do it and what's the point?
What Pullman said/says of the present tense in novels - "It’s a silly affectation, in my view, and it does nothing but annoy" - is exactly how its use in historical discussions strikes me.

Are media historians making the same mistake that Hensher suggested/suggests novelists are making "by thinking that using the present tense would make their writing more vivid"?

Or has there been (or is there?) a decree from some style-supremo at the BBC that speakers must speak about the past in the present tense?

As licence-fee payers, I think we have a right to know - but I have my doubts about anyone will ever bother to tell us.

US Congress makes UK Prime Minister's Question Time seem very restrained!

A couple of days ago, Hadleigh Roberts drew my attention via Twitter (@HadleighRoberts ) to the most extraordinary speech I've ever seen.

Today, he's sent me a link to another gem, in which an American Congressman makes speakers in the UK House of Commons look very restrained indeed.

If he carries on like this, Mr Roberts - to whom thanks, once again - is going make an important contribution to the entertainment value of this blog!

The most extraordinary speech I've ever seen!

I'm very grateful to John Hindmarsh (@hsramdnih) and Hadleigh Roberts (@HadleighRoberts) for drawing my attention via Twitter to this extraordinary speech.

Having collected audio and video tapes of speeches for 30+ years, I can say with near certainty that I don't ever remember seeing anything quite like this before!



Shortly after posting this video, John Zimmer posted a perceptive analysis of it on his blog Manner of Speaking, and I'm grateful to him for permission to reproduce it here:

The video above has been spreading like wildfire on the Internet. It is a short speech by Phil Davison, a Republican candidate for the position of Treasurer in Stark County, Ohio.

Davison’s speech, which was given to about 100 people, is, to say the least, memorable. In his blog, my friend Max Atkinson states that in over 30 years of collecting tapes of speeches, he has never seen anything quite like it.

News agencies and YouTubers are, perhaps not surprisingly, having a field day with the story. Now, I know nothing about Davison or the burning political issues in Stark County, Ohio. But I would like to take a different tack and try to analyze the speech to see what lessons we can learn from it from the public speaking perspective.

First, the speech. If you haven’t seen it, fasten your seatbelt.

OK, what can we learn? First off, two main lessons:

  • Lesson No. 1: Speakers must control their emotions. Speaking with passion is one of the most important things a speaker can do. But the passion must be harnessed and channeled in a constructive manner. Otherwise the speech becomes a runaway freight train. Do not let your emotions get the better of you.
  • Lesson No. 2: If you must refer to extensive notes, you are probably better off staying behind the lectern. If you step away, only to have to hasten back, it is very distracting. A speaker should move with purpose and confidence and not pace back and forth.

Apart from these lessons, here are some other observations:

  • 0:00 – 0:30 During his opening, Davison referred to his notes at least ten times in 30 seconds. It is OK to use notes if you need them, but at the very least you should have your opening memorized as it is the first impression that you make on the audience. Note the mistake about the date of the election. Not a major gaffe, but not something you want to have happen right of the bat.
  • 0:35 Here, Davison explains a bit of his background, noting that he has served on his home county’s council for 13 years. Somewhat oddly, though, he tries to indicate the number 13 by holding up a combination of his fingers. Gestures should be meaningful; the gesture here was not needed.
  • 0:43 – 1:00 Davison sets out his educational background and, for the most part, he does a good job. He makes good eye contact and his voice is strong but measured – at least until he mentions his degree in communications.
  • 1:00 – 1:22 The finger-pointing and the tone are not likely to generate much sympathy. As for “I will not apologize for my tone tonight”, it would have helped if Davison had said exactly why he was so visibly upset. If the incumbent had done something to merit this degree of consternation, it would have helped to say so, if for no other reason than to assure people that this was heartfelt indignation rather than just ranting.
  • 1:22 – 1:35 “Republican in times good and bad.” Well, OK, he is a loyal Republican and he is speaking to members of his political party, but the statement is hackneyed, without any concrete examples and he screams it.
  • 1:35 – 2:05 This was a key part of the speech. Davison had a very powerful quote from Albert Einstein, but his emotion got the best of him and he botched the line. Unfortunate.
  • 2:05 – 2:35 He began by talking about the situation in the Treasurer’s office and how there was a need for structure and guidance. I was hoping to hear something substantive, a concrete example of what was needed. But there was only shouting, vague talk about “aggressive” campaigning and mixed metaphors (“hit the ground running and come out swinging”).
  • 2:35 – 3:00 He tried to engage the audience by asking what drastic times require, and this was good. But I would like to have seen the look on the face of the person who gave the answer (“drastic measures”) when Davison thanked him. His thank you was … beyond exuberant.
  • 3:00 – 3:40 I liked how Davison appeared to speak extemporaneously by referring to something his friend had just said. But the bit about “infestation” and politics being “winner take all” was incongruous and incomprehensible.
  • 3:40 – 4:40 I thought that this was, relatively, one of the best parts of the speech. Davison was calm and measured.
  • 4:40 – 5:52 But it didn’t last long as the “let’s use this knowledge … as a weapon” and the “both barrels guns loaded” was just grandstanding. The rest of the speech was relatively calm, but by this time the impression had been made.

Ultimately, Davison did not get the nomination. In this article, he expresses his disappointment and his desire for feedback. Well, if he ever reads this blog, I hope that this post helps. Going forward, I would offer Davison the following ideas to consider:

  • Have someone proofread the speech to cut out excessive posturing and ensure that the content is substantive enough.
  • Practice the speech often, including moving with purpose.
  • Get comfortable without notes or with just the main points as an aide mémoire.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Find a quiet place to warm-up right before speaking by swinging the arms, clapping the hands, stretching, etc. to release some of that nervous energy.
  • Stay well hydrated. Avoid caffeine.

And finally, let’s not forget one thing. It might not have been the greatest speech, but at least Davison had the courage of his convictions to stand up in front of 100 people and have a kick at the can. And that’s what public speaking is all about. It’s easy to criticize from the “cheap seats” but it’s another matter when you’re the one on stage.