Does Nick Clegg's new year message work for you?

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).

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's 'New Year message' has raised the same question for me: "I don't think this quite works, but have yet to figure out exactly why. Comments and/or suggestions welcome..."

More gobbledygook from the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas sermon

I wasn't planning to do a blog post today, but couldn't resist it when I saw this clip from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas day sermon.

On previous occasions, I've noted what a hopeless communicator he is (e.g. Inward clutter' in the Archbishop of Canterbury's Easter sermon and What does a 147 sentence word sound like?).

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."

Other gems from the sermon quoted on the BBC website (HERE) included:

"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).

And the much briefer, but equally unintelligible:

"The Prayer Book is a treasury of words and phrases that are still for countless English-speaking people the nearest you can come to an adequate language for the mysteries of faith."

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.'

Maybe Miliband knows something we don't, or maybe Livesey isn't as barmy as his former boss.

But it's going to be interesting to see whether or not he's able to give the Labour Party good value for money and their leader some some much needed improvement in his speech-making...

Is there still time to learn from a video of yourself speaking to an audience?

Caught on camera
Browsing through YouTube the other day, I was suprised - and not sure whether to be flattered or annoyed - to come across this clip from a lecture I gave in Copenhagen last year.

Yes, I may have spent decades making, collecting and commenting on videotapes of other people speaking. But, like so many others, I don't much like watching myself in action - which raises the question of why I've decided to draw attention to it with this post?

The short answer is that it made me realise how very few clips I've ever seen of myself actually speaking to an audience. So it gives me a chance to treat my performance as data and to analyse where there might be room for improvement - if it's not too late for that.

It also gives anyone else a chance to do the same - and especially those of you who've had to put up with my feedback on your efforts during courses or coaching sessions. It only seems fair to let you have a chance get your own back on me.

For what they're worth, here are a few of the things that occurred to me.

Pluses & minuses?
Eye-contact with the audience was better than I'd expected, and I was gratified to hear a few laughs from the audience so close to the start of the lecture, when getting their attention is so crucial.

The pace of the delivery also rather surprised me. I don't know whether I pause as often or for as long as I do here when I'm speaking to native speakers of English, but did wonder whether it was rather too slow and ponderous. I was, however, very conscious that almost everyone in this particular audience was a native speaker of Danish.

Mumbling monotone?
There were moments of mumbling that took me back to my first attempts at lecturing more than forty years ago. I was aware then that even the remnants (?) of a Yorkshire accent can come across as flat and monotonous to those who come from anywhere else, and that sounding a bit livelier was something that I was always going to have to work hard at - on this evidence: "still room for improvement."

Where's his jacket?
In a previous blog post (HERE), I recalled a course that I'd attended more than 4o years ago:

"... 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."

I still don't know whether speaking in shirtsleeves gives the impression that I "really mean business". What I do know that it helps to keep the sweat under control, which makes me feel marginally more comfortable than would otherwise be the case.

Nor, until or unless someone makes a very strong case that I shouldn't do it, is it something that I plan to do any differently in the near future.

Retirement beckons?
And a near future is all that's left to one who's already qualified for the old age pension and a bus-pass. Gone are the days from a distant past when I used to worry that audiences would think me too young to be taken seriously.

Today, the problem has become the opposite: how are you to know if and when an audience thinks that you're past your sell-by date and really ought to pack it in forthwith?

On the basis of this video clip (aided and abetted by the bias of my own eyes and ears) he doesn't look or sound too much like an old fogey (yet).

But will he ever know when to stop and how will he ever know when that time has arrived - unless he starts to forget crucial points he was planning to mention, falls off the stage or comes across as a doddering old fool?

For all he knows, he may be already there - and might even have been there for quite a while.

So maybe the answer should come from the world of sport - where the sensible few retire before they start losing (or get dropped from the team) - in which case, the safest option may be to call it a day sooner rather than later...

Prose for Putin: Christmas speechwriting competition, 2011

The best laid plans of mice, men and Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin don't always go as smoothly as intended (e.g. HERE).

So, for this year's Christmas competition, you are cordially invited to write a short speech outlining Mr Putin's message to supporters and/or opponents for 2o12.

As usual, the winner will receive a signed copy of Lend Me Your Ears: All You Need to Know about Making Speeches and Presentations with a signed copy of Speech-Making and Presentation Made Easy for the runner up.

How to enter
Entries in Comments below and/or email before midnight on 31 December 2011 (see 'View my complete profile' in left hand column for link).

A blog for all seasons

Although I took my laptop with me on a recent holiday in the Canary Islands, I found it surprisingly easy not to take it out of its case for a whole week. That meant no blogging, no tweeting and getting out of habit if doing either.

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...