Michael O’Leary (Ryanair), on a Brussels stage, bashes EU

From Auracle Newsletter. January ‘12

Towards the end of 2011 there was held in Brussels, hosted by the EU, an Innovation Convention. Speakers at that convention included Michael O’Leary of Ryanair.

He spoke for nearly 18 minutes; and used his time on the platform to speak not only about innovation and innovators but also about Ryanair. That’s fair enough. He’d be crazy to squander the profile opportunity; and anyway, what is the story of Ryanair if not a lesson in innovation? He also used the opportunity to deliver some pretty savage and well-aimed sideswipes at his hosts – the EU – which adds an element of entertainment. (To their credit, the audience took it in good heart.)

The first observation to be made is that O’Leary has completely cut his umbilical cord. Never once during his delivery do I pick up the slightest symptom of his being concerned with himself, or giving a damn about anything except his message and his audience. (You might think that would be a ‘given’ for someone in his position. Trust me: it isn’t.) Let’s look at a few specifics in his speech.

  • He appears to treat his opening so casually that it is tempting to regard it as inconsequential and therefore not worthy of study. That would be a mistake because – whether by accident or design – it is a very clever opening. We clearly join the occasion just as his introduction has finished. He could (and most would) have strode across to the lectern before beginning; but every second of that silent journey would have added to his hump (yes, he has a hump like everyone else). Instead he takes a shillelagh to his hump by starting speaking immediately and speaking all the way to the lectern. Just consider how much he ‘informalises’ the atmosphere by doing this, how much he transmits an eagerness to impart his message, how much he takes instant control of the proceedings, how much he relaxes his audience.
  • 3:22 he throws in a triad/gag in the shape of a good Ronald Reagan quote.  It’s quite funny but the instant impression is that it has died, because the ‘atmos’ sound is turned right down and we don’t hear the laughter.  Luckily we cut to a view of the audience, and see the laughter instead.
  • There is no sign of any script, but he is using PowerPoint or Keynote; and he clearly has a slave screen somewhere down to his left. This he uses as an ‘Idiot Board’ when he starts trotting out statistics. This is better than wielding paper: better than surrendering his focus by turning to look at the big screen: much better than getting statistics wrong.
  • 12:40 (He’s so good that I’m allowing myself to be really picky!) With his hand in the air in front of him, he illustrates a flat-lining graph that suddenly takes off. He does it his way round. If I were advising him I’d get him into the habit of doing such things in mirror image, so that the graph was the right way round for his audience.

Still being picky I found myself thinking that if I were advising him I might get him to do more to segment his three areas of discussion – innovation, Ryanair and anti- EU-sideswipes: the way he mixes them all together has a tendency to muddy the various messages. And then I completely changed my mind, and for a very good reason.

Let’s leave the public speaking arena for a moment and imagine you are being interviewed by a broadcaster with political agenda. If you want to get in some side-swipes that they might not like, then mix them up in the pure gold that you are also uttering. It makes it much more difficult for them to edit out the side-swipes without losing the gold. Therefore for a minor sacrifice of a little coherence you ensure that all your messages strike home. Might whoever shot the video have tried to edit out O’Leary’s anti-EU comments? I actually don’t think so, but anyway they’d have had a hell of a job.

Finally, let’s see whether Michael O’Leary passes Brian’s memorability test (Cardinal 3 in The Face & Tripod). Yes he does! What did he say? He said, “If you want to be an innovator get the hell out of Brussels!”

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