17 October 2018

Using props as visual aids

Some of hose who attended the European Speechwriters and Business Communicators Conference in Helsinki last week had to put up with watching me giving a short presentation using my iPhone to show short DVD clips to illustrate the main points I was making on a screen 

The reason for risking the use of technology in this way was that I had left the original DVD in a restaurant at Heathrow airport en route to Helsinki - or so I thought last week.

But today, I found the said DVD, neatly deposited in its container on my desk! I hadn't taken it with me at all, so it was just as well that I had a copy on my phone.

The following has a few more examples of speakers using props as visual aids than the DVD used at the conference where time was very limited.

Below the picture, I've attached a copy of the handout used with my talk.

Autumn conference, House of the Estates, Helsinki,
11 & 12 October 2018 #esnfinland18
Max Atkinson’s talk: ‘USING PROPS AS VISUAL AIDS' (handout)

British political party conference
Ann Brennan: “Imagine knocking on people’s doors in King’s Cross (holds up papers) and preaching the word with this.”

Audience: laughter and applause.

Apple product launch

Steve Jobs (walking slowly on stage): “And so let me go ahead and show it to you now…” (holds up office envelope)
Audience: clapping and cheering
Jobs: “let me take it out and show it to you now” (unwraps envelope)
Audience: more clapping, cheering, whistling.
Jobs: “This is it (takes Macbook Air from envelope)
Audience: more clapping, cheering, whistling.
Jobs: “This is the new Macbook Air (holds it up in the air) and you can get a feel for how thin it is”
Audience: Even more clapping and cheering…
Jobs: Yeah there it is
Audience: continuous clapping…

Ted Talk on malaria

Bill Gates: “…course transmitted by mosquitoes and I’ve brought some here (unscrews jar on table in front of him – slight laughter from audience) so you could experience this and we’ll let them roam around the er (louder and more extended audience laughter) auditorium a little bit there – There’s no reason only poor people should have the experience (laughter).

BBC TV Andrew Marr interview with the Archbishop of York

John Sentamu (having removed his clerical collar): “As an Anglican, this is what I wear to identify myself – that I’m a clergyman (holds collar in front of him)
“Do you know what Mugabe has done? He’s taken people’s identity (produces scissors) And literally, if you don’t mind, (starts cutting collar to pieces) cut it to pieces.
This is what he’s actually done so that it the end there’s nothing. so as far as I’m concerned I’m not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe’s gone” (puts down scissors and remaining pieces of collar).

BBC TV Robin Day with retiring defence minister John Nott

Day: “But why should the public on this issue with regards the future of the Royal Navy believe you a transient here today and if I may say so gone tomorrow politician rather than a senior officer of many years experience?”
Nott: “I’m sorry, I’m fed up with this interview (stands up, unclips microphone and throws it down on table between them) ridiculous (inaudible)”
Day: “Thank you Mr Nott.”

Royal Society: Christmas lectures for children

Professor of Physics (holding red ball: “I have here a solid steel ball – it weighs fourteen kilograms – it’s incredibly heavy – and it’s suspended from the roof of the Faraday lecture theatre by this steel cable.
“Now what I’m going to do is to take this steel ball over here and I’m going to stand with my back against this head-rest and in a moment, I’m going to place it against my face and then I’m going to let go (exhales audibly – audience laughs – professor laughs).
“It’s going to swing out across the lecture theatre and then it’s going to swing back towards my face. Now, according to the laws of physics, it should stop just before it touches me. OK, that’s the theory, now see what happens. I think this is probably worth a countdown – are you ready? Three (audience joins in with him) two, one, go.
(Prof lets ball go)
Audience: “Oooooh” louder and upwards as the ball swings towards this face. Loud applause as it just misses him.

4 October 2018

Did Tories pay royalties for playing ABBA's 'Dancing Queen'?

Media image for still pictures of theresa may 2018 conference speech from Mirror.co.uk
Video and text courtesy of the Guardian

Theresa May took the opportunity at the start of her keynote Tory conference speech to make light of some of her previous gaffes. She walked on stage to Dancing Queen by Abba, a self-deprecating reference to her dancing antics during her Africa visit in August. 

She then made jokes about her speech from last year's Tory conference, when she was plagued by a cough and the backdrop behind her fell apart.....

2 October 2018

Chuck Chequers and hog the headlines with alliteration

Readers of my books will know that the sound of words, like simple alliteration, can often play an important part in the the effectiveness of rhetoric - as when the then new prime minister Tony Blair spoke of "the people's princess" a few hours after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Compared with Blair and David Cameron, Mr Johnson is far from being the great speaker he is thought to be by his brexit fans, who seem to have conveniently forgotten what a late convert he was to that particular cause.

But expect to see "chuck Chequers" quoted on all tonights new programmes and tomorrow's newspapers and/or see what the Belfast Telegraph an ITN have already made of it.

Image result for still picture boris johnson speech 20018 tory conference


ITV Report 2 October 2018 at 1:01pm:

Boris Johnson calls for Government to 'chuck Chequers' in speech to Conservative Party Conference

Leaving the EU on the terms of the Chequers plan would be a "mistake" and would be the "perfect" way for the UK to return to the EU, Boris Johnson has said in an eagerly-anticipated speech at the Tory conference in which he told the audience to "chuck Chequers".......

28 September 2018

Oil-painting lottery

Ignoring any misleading dates & signatures there may be on these four paintings, your challenge is to work out the order in which they were painted.

Prize: a free copy of Max Atkinson's Speech-making and Presentation made Easy.

1                                              2
3                                              4 

27 September 2018

Can mental patients ever expect justice from psychiatrists?

Type of Dementia


Blogging on 20th August, I raised some questions about psychiatry and psychiatrists without saying much about my reasons for doing so - apart from noting that, in the face of growing problems of mental health, it's a 'science' that's regarded with much less scepticism these days than was the case in the 1960s.

 This is a true story about someone who was treated by 9 different psychiatrists in 4 years, only three of whom were native-speakers of English. 

Having recently had some blood tests, he went to see his new GP for the results.

As he was worried, after 4 years under so many different psychiatrists, if his official medical records said that he was suffering, as he suspected, from 'vascular dementia'. And, if so, which of the many psychiatrists had mistakenly diagnosed him as suffering from this incurable illness.

Psychiatric provision in a small town and a recovery plan that failed

In charge at the first hospital to which he was admitted, were two ethnic African psychiatrists, neither of whom were fluent speakers of English. After a few months they discharged him and he was treated in accordance with the recovery plan that they'd devised. 

This involved being 'treated in the community' by a locus-psychiatrist whose native language was Serbian. His English was very poor, added to which he had a serious hearing (and listening) problem. 

At the first meeting, he told the patient and the other family members accompanying him that he'd left his hearing aid in his car. 

But when one of them offered to go to the car park to get it for him, he said he didn't need it because he could lip-read English perfectly well - even though he couldn't actually speak English perfectly well.

The Serbian then sat down facing the family, with his back to the patient. In so far any of them could understand anything he said, he strongly implied that not all the drugs that had been prescribed by the Africans were necessary.

The patient therefore stopped stopped taking some of them and his condition gradually deteriorated.

After seeing the same consultant a few more times, he was sent (against his will) to another mental hospital 25 miles away from home - which was a blessing in disguise.

Psychiatric provision at a hospital in a bigger town and a recovery plan that worked

A notice board in his room at the second mental hospital informed him that his psychiatrist was no longer the Serbian, but a Dr W, whom he had yet to meet and who didn't come to see him for several weeks after he arrived.

Finding out where Dr W was quite a challenge. Some of the nurses said that he was on sabbatical leave somewhere in North America, some that he was on holiday in the USA and others that, as he'd taken early retirement, he could now afford  to  work when he felt like it.

The most promising news was that he was a native-speaker of English, who everyone agreed,  got on well with his patients, was a good chap and a 'good psychiatrist'.

It didn't take Dr W and the nurses long to devise a recovery plan and discharge their patient fairly quickly.

Postcode lottery:

His experience in these two mental hospitals demonstrated that there's a postcode lottery in the treatment of mental illness, just as there's a postcode lottery in the treatment of physical illnesses.

Compared with what happened at the local small town hospital, the effectiveness of the treatment (and aftercare) at the more distant hospital in the bigger town was far superior.

Drugs are much more effective than they were in the 1960s and 1970s:

Although it's not at all clear how they all work, the drugs now available for treating depression, anxiety and other mental disorders seem to do more good and less harm to patients than they did in the 1960s and 1970s - when chemicals like lithium were dished out with little or no regard for their damaging side effects like Parkinson's disease.

Here, the Serbian psychiatrist's advice on medication was clearly wrong (as was that of his predecessors), whereas the medication prescribed by all their successors worked much more effectively.

This raises a number of rather important questions.

If a psychiatrist gets a diagnosis wrong, what chance does a patient have of winning a case against him/her when it's on the official medical record that he/she was mad?

Would this patient have a viable legal case against the African and Serbian psychiatrists were he to make a formal complaint against them?

And what about Dr W?

On asking his new GP whether it was on his official medical record that he suffers from vascular dementia, she confirmed that it was.

She also confirmed that the psychiatrist who put it there was none other than Dr W.

But Dr W had never bothered to tell his patient this.

He did, however, tell the patient's wife that (a) he was suffering from vascular dementia (b) it's incurable and (c) as he'd steadily get worse, she'd better prepare herself for a progressively more dismal future for both of them (on the seriousness of vascular  dementia, see below the line at the bottom of this page).

All he told his patient was that he would never be able to drive again and that he should dispose of his car as soon as possible - which he did.

Three years later, thanks his GPs and two more psychiatrists, Dr W's confident diagnosis turned out to have been utterly wrong.

Last year, the DVLA medical group issued the patient with a new driving licence for a year - after which, he bought a new car. This year, they extended it for another three years.

Meanwhile, consultants in psychiatry like Dr W continue to behave as if their specialism is based on as sound a knowledge base as eye, heart and brain surgery.

The big questions are how much damage are they doing and how many mental health patients are suffering as a result???


Types of Dementia

Dementia is a broad umbrella term used to describe a range of progressive neurological disorders. There are many different types of dementia and some people may present with a combination of types. Regardless of which type is diagnosed, each person will experience their dementia in their own unique way.

Vascular dementia is also known as “multi-infarct dementia” or “post-stroke dementia” and is the second most common cause of dementia.

Main symptoms:

  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Decrease ability to plan
  • Loss of motivation
Cause: Bleeding within the brain from a stroke causes brain damage.

Treatments or therapies: Vascular dementia cannot be cured, but people who have the ailment are treated to prevent further brain injury from the underlying cause of the ailment. Like Alzheimer’s disease, numerous medication and therapies may be used to help manage the symptoms.

23 September 2018

Weston-super-Mare, Clacton-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea

Related image

It rained heavily yesterday, but it didn't stop six of us from having a family lunch of fish and chips at the end the Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare (left).

Known colloquially as Weston-super-Mud, it was very muddy indeed in the rain. It got me thinking about the apparent pretentiousness of adding a Latin suffix to the name 'Weston'.


As an inhabitant of Westbury-sub-Mendip I understand that, in the early 20th century, such suffixes were added to make life easier for postal workers in sorting and deliverin
g mail, long before the invention of post-codes. So is it the same with places like Weston-suoer-Mare, Clacton-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea?

I used to think this a not very cunning plan for estuary based resorts like Weston, Southend and Burnham-on-Sea to pretend they were proper seaside resorts. But my research has made me think otherwise.

Getting there

Unlike Weston and Southend, Clacton really is on the Essex coast and has really sandy beaches. The 'on-Sea' was origina
lly added because there was a time (before the railways) when the only easy way to get there was via the sea.

The arrival of the railways also meant made Southend accessible to trippers from the East end of London. And, in case anyone pointed out that it was on the Thames estuary and not the proper sea, they built the longest pier in the world out into the 'sea'.


As for Weston-super-Mare and the apparent pretentiousness of adding a Latin suffix part of the problem was that Weston is a very common place-name, with about 60 in the UK, 30 in the USA and, in the diocese of Bath and Wells there are at least five.

Fans of an early Blackadder series may be as intrigued as I was to discover that the most plausible explanation for the Latin is that it came from an early bishop of Bath and Wells.

The earliest known reference to Weston-super-Mare is in the register of Ralph of Shrewsbury, bishop of Bath and Wells, dated 1348. And in the pre-reformation church, of course, Latin was the common language of priests and bishops.....

6 September 2018

Spectacles and baseball caps as fashion accessories

Why wear your specs on your head?

I've been fortunate in never having to wear glasses for anything other than reading, drawing and painting. 

I do of course occasionally wear sun-glasses. But whether using reading or sun-glasses, I avoid doing what the bloke above is doing - because, unlike him, I've still enough hair left that it would probably make the specs greasy and in need of a clean.

Yet these days, for no apparent reason as far as I can see, it's become very fashionable for men and women of all ages to rest their glasses on their hair when they don't need them.

Does anyone have any idea why this is?
Is it another pointless import from the USA?
If so, what prompted our American cousins to start doing it in the first place?

What about baseball caps that point backwards?

Related image                      

These young man are Americans, so it makes sense that they might want to wear a baseball cap.  What makes no sense to me that they're wearing them with the peak pointing backwards.

I know that baseball caps have become fashionable here in the UK (but have no idea why).

I also know that a lot of our youngsters have taken to wearing them back to front. In fact, I've a young neighbour who never comes out of the house without wearing his baseball cap the wrong way round  - regardless of whether it's hot and sunny, pouring with rain or cold and snowing.

A few years ago I blogged, to no avail, about why we Brits make so much use of baseball metaphors in presentations and business-speak (standing up to the plate, getting past first base, hitting a home run, etc.) when our national summer game is cricket, not rounders with a hard ball on a big field.

Now, the big question nagging away at me is: why so many men (of all ages) prefer US style baseball caps to traditional British headwear.

A few years ago, another neighbour of ours went skiing in the USA and told an American in a lift queue how much he liked his baseball cap and asked where he could get one that pointed backwards.  When the American aid he'd got it at the local ski shop, my neighbour went there and asked if they had any backwards-pointing caps.

The shop assistant was serious and apologetic:"Sorry sir, but I'm afraid we only stock ones that point forwards and I'm not sure where you'd get one of the type you're looking for."

Now even outstanding cricketers like Kohli sometimes wear baseball caps

Image result for royalty free pictures of famous cricketers with baseball caps

India's cricket captain Virat Kohl with  baseball cap (and beard)

                                                   Image result for royalty free pictures of famous cricketers with baseball caps

Proper cricket cap worn last week by record-breaking 
 former England captain, Alistair Cook  

All of which is to ask: why all these things are happening and happening at the same time?

5 September 2018

Time for the chancellor to tax beards?


According to my 2018 diary, which has one historical fact for every day of the year, today was the day in 1698 when Peter the Great of Russia imposed a tax on all men with beards (for more information on which, watch this on Youtube). The tax remained in force for a further 70years after that.

Image result for royalty free pictures of lenin and nicholas ii
Nicholas II                                 Lenin
This was just as well, because beards had become so fashionable by the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries that Nicholas II and Lenin both had beards, as did Queen Victoria's two successors, Edward VII and George V.

Even one of my own great grandfathers had a beard and still had it when he died in 1950 at the age of 98.

Image result for royalty free photo of 1960s hippie student with beard

But by the 1960s and 70s, beards went out of fashion - apart from exceptions like students and hippies (left).


For reasons that remain a mystery to me, the last few years have seen beards make a sudden and rapid return to the world of male fashion - regardless of age, occupation, social class. or politics.

Call me old fashioned, but I still haven't got used to watching bearded professional footballers and cricketers (of all nationalities) playing such sweaty sports.

During the recent hot summer when pollen counts were high, we were visited by a salesman in his twenties with an enormous red beard (and a shaved bald head) -who couldn't stop coughing and spluttering.

"Hay fever?" I asked, to which he replied "I've always suffered from it but it seems to get worse as I get older."

I was too polite to suggest that it had nothing to do with growing older and everything to do with the fact that his beard must have been full of pollen. If he could be bothered to shave his face as well as his head,  his hay fever wouldn't be so debilitating.


Were I advising Philip Hammond on a simple way to increase tax and reduce the deficit in these economically challenging pre-brexit times, I'd suggest he takes a leaf out of Peter the Great's tax book.

He could say that treating hay fever with antihistamines, nasal sprays, etc. is a cost to the NHS that's made worse by men who don't shave.

A tax on beards wouldn't affect the P.M., or many other Tory MPs - but would penalise the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn!

31 August 2018

TV interviews with politicians

A lesson fromMichael Crick of Channel 4 News on how to interview a politician?

 (The following has been reproduced from https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 where you can watch the interview - to whom many thanks):

"What did you do to help the release of Nelson Mandela?"

Having endured a day of intense scrutiny from the media, Theresa May was last night forced to defend her record on South African apartheid ahead of a visit to Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.
Michael Crick decimates Theresa May's record on South African apartheid in car crash interview
Michael Crick interviews Teresa May

Channel 4 news reporter Michael Crick used the opportunity of a one-on-one interview to question the prime minister about what she had done to oppose racial segregation in South Africa, which was only ended in the country in the early 90s.

During the two-minute grilling, May was repeatedly interrupted and refused to give a straight answer to the journalist's line of questioning, although she admitted that she had not personally taken part in protests against South Africa's white-only regime.

"You were active in politics in the 70s and 80s, what did you do to help release Nelson Mandela?" Crick asked.

May responded: "I think what is important is what the United Kingdon-" But Crick interrupted the prime minister, repeating: "No, what did you do? Did you go on protests? Did you get arrested outside the embassy? Did you boycott South African goods? Did you do anything?"

She replied: "I think you know full well, Michael, that I didn't go on protests. But what is important is the work that -"

"Well did you boycott South African goods?" Crick interrupted again. Only for May to continue:

"The work that the United Kingdom government did to ensure that it did give support where that support was needed."

Although not a member of parliament until 1997, Theresa May was an active Conservative politician and party member during the 1980s and served as a councillor for London Borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994.

Margaret Thatcher, addressing the Tory party conference 
in 1984 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Margaret Thatcher attracted criticism during her premiership of the country in the 80s for dismissing the then incarcerated Nelson Mandela as "a terrorist". Following the end of his 18-year imprisonment, Mandela would go on to become President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Turning to the record of the Tory government at the time, Crick asked: "Hang on a minute at that stage Mrs Thatcher believed that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Were you a loyal Conservative member, did you think the same thing?"

May responded: "What was important was the support that the government was giving at the time, often support behind the scenes to ensure that we saw the result that we did in relation to the ending of apartheid here in South Africa."

Theresa May later visited the deceased former South African president's cell on Robben Island. Upon leaving the island, she wrote in the visitor book: "It has been a privilege to visit in this year - the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. His legacy lives on in the hopes and dreams of young people here in South Africa and around the world."

When Michael Crick was a young reporter in the early days of Channel 4 News, he interviewed me. But not in the way he did here with Mrs May because, unlike a lot of TV interviewers (e.g. John Humphrys) he understood the difference between an interview to obtain facts from an expert and an interview to put the interviewee under pressure.

So he doesn't always interrupt the interviewee in mid-answer as a matter of course (like John Humphrys) but only does so when his question is being as blatantly avoided as is done by the  Prime Minister in this particular interview.

I have no idea why he resigned as political editor of BBC 2's Newsnight, but thought it a damaging loss to the BBC that he went back to Channel 4 News, were he started his TV career. 

Crick is one of the reasons why so many of us believe that Channel 4 News is by far the best news programme on British television.