Last week, I asked whether Ed Miliband's Christmas message to our armed forces worked for you, to which the comments received suggested that the answer was "No" (HERE).
Here's another masterpiece. At only 53 words, it may be only about three and a half times longer that the average number of words per sentence in an effective speech (16 words), But does anyone (other than perhaps him) have a clue what it means?
"Whether it is an urban rioter, mindlessly burning down a small shop that serves his community, or a speculator turning his back on the question of who bears the ultimate cost for his acquisitive adventures in the virtual reality of today's financial world, the picture is of atoms spinning apart in the dark."
"And the almost forgotten words of the Long Exhortation in the Communion Service, telling people what questions they should ask themselves before coming to the Sacrament, show a keen critical awareness of the new economic order that, in the mid 16th century, was piling up assets of land and property in the hands of a smaller and smaller elite" (60 words).
Atoms spinning apart in the dark?
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband appointed Tim Livesey, a former adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury as his chief of staff only a few days ago. As it said in the Guardian 'Livesey...has been involved in some of the archbishop's more controversial speeches, including one suggesting that sharia law was inevitable in the UK.'
"... while I was being video-taped doing a lecture on a course for new university lecturers, the studio lights were so hot that I took my jacket off. At the feedback session, it became a matter for discussion: the tutor stopped the tape with the words, “Here’s a speaker who really means business.” Though nothing could have been further from the truth, the realisation that some people might see it that way has made jacket removal a routine prelude to almost every lecture I have ever given since then."
A further incentive to do neither came from the curious fact that, in spite of no new blog posts during that period, the number of blog hits increased dramatically - and now averages twice as many as usual.
All has now been explained by a bit of rather obvious research.
Three years ago, I posted The Office Christmas Party: roads to failure and success.
Two years ago, I posted Christmas competition:What did Santa say before 'Ho-ho-ho'?.
60% of today's visits landed on one or other of these posts after Google searches for things like 'christmas party speeches' and 'christmas santa'.
The moral of the story for bloggers wanting to attract more visitors seems obvious: go through a calendar of the year and devise 'topical' posts for all seasons that will be come up on search engines year after year after year after year. Whether or not I can be bothered, however, remains to be seen...
A few weeks ago, after hearing a presentation by Melvyn Bragg, I made the point that effective broadcasters aren't necessarily as effective when it comes to public speaking (HERE).
I've also commented on how famous actors, with the notable exception of Ronald Reagan, aren't always particularly effective at making speeches either:
'After all, their skill is to deliver other people’s lines in a way that portrays characters other than themselves, which is a very different business from writing your own lines and coming across as yourself.
'Politically active thespians like Glenda Jackson, M.P., and Vanessa Redgrave may be admired for their successful acting careers, but neither of them is particularly impressive when it comes to making political speeches.
'In fact, the only example of an actor who did become a great public speaker that I can think of is Ronald Reagan, but he’d already been rolling his own speeches on the lecture circuit for General Electric long before he became Governor of California...' (more HERE)
Hugh Grant's appearance at the Leveson Inquiry into phone hacking (e.g. above), as well as some of his earlier performances on Newsnight and Question Time, suggests that he might be another interesting exception that proves a rule, namely that a professional actor can sometimes come across as far more articulate in person than as the stuttering bumbling characters they've become best known for playing in their films.
- What, in your opinion, is the greatest speech ever - and why? @MartinShovel
- Sound-bite culture and the death of political oratory? @lordbonkers
- Relationship btw written text and spoken word? @dirkvl
- How should scientists address the public? @nhsgooroo
- How to keep your presentation fresh after you've done it 700 times @podiumcoaching
- How about something involving 7 - like your 7 favourite posts from the last 699, or your top 7 tips for a public speaker? @philpresents
- What about great female speakers? Or what attributes women have to be powerful speakers versus their male cntrprts. @frankluempers
- "Why?", "10 things I learnt thru blogging", "If I started again...", "The next 300..." ... ;-) @cuchullainn
- 1400th century history as it was 700 years ago. @campbellclaret
- Speeches that aren't famous but should be. What have we missed that was amazing? @karinjr
- The impact of luck on your life -- Lucky #700 or reverse the no's & be cryptic as in 007. @wendycherwinski
- Something I've always remembered from 1 of yr books - why audiences pay less attention than indivs. Always stuck with me @DillyTalk
- Speechmaking in multilingual events @HadleighRoberts
- Using religious imagery/metaphors in public speaking? @carlquilliam
- A recap of your favorites or most popular posts @TravisDahle
- How about a post highlighting your 10 favorites? It would be nice to "unbury" those posts & give them new life @MrMediaTraining
- Studyof rhetoric in The Lord's Prayer @aaronwood
- "The 7 Deadly Sins of The Lonesome Speaker"? @MarionChapsal
- After 700 posts, what haven't you written about? @johnwatkis
- Something hearkening back to order in the court? Categorisation in the production of contrast pairs? @Edward_Reynolds
- "On lists of 10, counting, numbers and facts" @Edward_Reynolds
- Consider issues raised in my field e.g a speaker makes a joke, the EN audience laugh, the FR needs interpret. & laughs... @HadleighRoberts
- Also, given your emphasis on words and structure, does interpreting (meaning and concepts) ultimately ruin a speech? @HadleighRoberts
- There's an idea for your 700th post: write it in French! @philpresents
- Voilà une idée qu'elle est bonne! @MarionChapsal
- What about guest bloggers from all around the world? The 7 Continents Blog Post! @MarionChapsal
- Blog in Franglais? Will look forward to seeing where you put the "Focus" @spek2all
- Speeches delivered in langs other than English/translated great speeches? @nhs999
- How about something on comic timing? Just enjoying fellow Liverpudlian Ken Dodd on TV @LordRennard
- Still same rubbish, inane voice-over on this new series.
- Childish voice over.
- Can anyone do anything about the patronising and childish commentary?
- An interesting programme which is spoiled each day by the childish voice over and empty nicknames.
In previous posts on the snakes & ladders theory of political communication (e.g. HERE and HERE), I've made the point that interviews (unlike speeches) hardly ever generate anything but bad news for politicians.
Then I discovered that they had a surprise in store and were going to elevate me to Communicator of the Year, 2011 - "awarded by Toastmasters to individuals who have either helped promote public speaking/leadership or helped to develop understanding of the speaking and leadership worlds."
"There is another side to Vincent Tabak. He is dishonest, deceitful and he is a liar."
'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.
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.
• 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.
• 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 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?
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:
— 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.
- Simon Hoggart: Liam Fox tiptoes round the notion that he did anything wrong (Guardian)
- Andrew Grice: Fox faces second inquiry as he turns his fire on the media (Independent)
- Are Labour's leading women better speakers than Labour's leading men?
- "May we bring hope" - 30 years since Margaret Thatcher took office as prime minister
- Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman (Part I)
- Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman (Part II)
- Margaret Thatcher and the evolution of charismatic woman (Part III)
- Clinton, Palin and the legacy of Margaret Thatcher