Twitter, it seems, is widely used by authors to advertise their own books – as too are various programmes on BBC Radio 4. Yesterday’s Start the Week, for example was presented by Andrew Marr, who gave two authors who gave each of them about 45 minutes to plug their latest books. One, was former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams (whose sermons sometimes included 150 word sentences that were unintelligible to listeners). In retirement, he’s become master of a Cambridge college and has just written a book in St. Benedict. I didn’t bother to check the length of his sentences but can report that he hasn’t changed and I shall not be buying his book.
1. Having written quite a few academic books, my first attempt at writing for a wider public was based on research that I’d done (while fellow of an Oxford college) into audience responses to political speeches. Originally published by Methuen in 1984, it’s still in print (thanks to Routlege).
Reading it now, I don’t think I got the hang of writing for a non-academic audience until Chapter 3. Claptrap – which was also used by Granada Television as the title of the World in Action documentary based on findings reported in the book that you can watch on the opening page of my website at speaking.co.uk
2. Twenty years later, after making a living putting into practice the basic principles – i.e. by running hundreds of courses and coaching lindividuals in private and public sectors (+ a few politicians) I wrote a ‘how to do it’ book. This time I was lucky to have a literary agent, Bill Hamilton of AM Heath & Co who understood how to write for different audiences. He taught me how to “address the reader directly.” Without my realising it, a legacy of academic writing was that I was still tending to write in the third person “if a speaker does this… “. Bill suggested I try writing “if you do this….”
His other main piece of advice was that I shouldn’t be afraid of using shortened or elided forms (“don’t” rather than “do not”. etc.) – which as an academic, I’d never have thought of doing. So I went through the original manuacript and, wherever possible changed the text as he’d suggested. At the end of the exercise, I was frankly amazed at how much more ‘readable’ it had made the book.
3. Peter Semper, an old school-friend, was very positive about Lend me your Ears though he did have a ‘but’: “only thing wrong with it is that it’s far too long for business people like me to read on a train or a flight - so why don’t you do a shorter version aimed at us." After a reasonably favourable response from my agent and publishers my agent and publishers, I asked Peter to have a go at producing a shorter version.
Fairly quickly, he sent me a copy of what he’d produced and, thanks to the wonders of word-processing technologly, I could see instantly that he’d only managed to cut it down by about a third – which I didn’t think was enough. So I set about cutting out even more and managed to get rid of another third. The result was Speechmaking and Presentation Made Easy: Seven essential steps to success:
4. During the Labour Party’s annual conference in September 2008, Michael Crick (then political editor of BBC TV’s Newsnight, now on Channel 4 News) suggested that I should start a blog. In June 2009, I reached my 250th blog-post. and realised that it was becoming something of an obsession.
The good news was that it was being favourably received. As Ayd Instone notes in his foreword to this next book (p. 7): “Politics.co.uk awarded it the same score (8/10) as Iain Dale’s Diary, one of the country’s top rated blogs. In their review, they said “Not many blogs out there focus so much on politicians’ presentation styles, so this makes a nice addition…a thoroughly impressive piece of work.”
At which point, I should confess that I personally find reading a book or newspaper easier and more satisfying than reading stuff from a screen, which is why the idea of publishing an edited collection of my blog-posts from 2008-2014 appealed to me. The result was:
Seen & Heard: conversations and commentary on contemporary communication
in politics, the media and around the world