Hilary Benn – better than some, but no cigar.

For the May ’12 Auracle newsletter I had been sniffing around the 2011 Labour Party Conference for speeches that provided interesting study.  I have previously posted a look at Ken Livingstone’s speech; but now –

Also at that conference was a speech by Hilary Benn.  He was looking at a script but not quite as often as some.  (Have you noticed how tolerant I am becoming of politicians who are buried in their scripts?  It’s because I have come to expect no better from them.  Previous generations of politicians didn’t need scripts: you can’t use one when you’re standing on a soapbox.)

What is interesting about his speech is that he has learnt some classic principles and he uses them. It was by no means flawless: for instance there was a problem with the Hump, not just his but the audience’s.  There was no Face, but still there was some copy-book stuff.  Let’s go through it…

  • 0:32  “Where we got it wrong…” he added a dramatic shrug, but his hump caused him to hurry it and render it pointless.
  • 1:21  “We made the right choice that day.”  The audience, still not yet warmed to him, gave merely 4 seconds applause.  [N.B. Par for applause within a speech is 8 seconds.]
  • 1:30  “ I’ve got a bit of news for you.”  This was unnecessary.  The audience had got the point and was already laughing.  In fact this addendum actually suppressed the laugh a little.
  • 1:43  “To protect …”   He used an anaphora triad.
  • 1:45  My writing mentor, a million years ago, told me, “Never ever say never ever”.  Does the same rule apply to speaking?  I’m not sure.
  • 2:25 This would have been funnier if he’d done it later, because (a) he would have delivered it better, and (b) the audience would have been more receptive.  In the event it part-died.
  • 3:16  The audience now warmed up, he got his full 8 seconds of applause.
  • 3:46  “He promised…”  Another anaphora triad, rather a protracted one.
  • 4:48, 5:52, 6:51  Three bouts of applause – all 8 seconds long – and he spread them out, giving the audience around a minute each time to recover.
  • 7:32 “Remind them…” Anaphora, but not a triad.  He extended to 5 elements of repetition.
  • 8:42  “We have the …” Anaphora, and building to his finish he gave this one a whopping 7 elements.  He delivered them all without reference to his script.  He doesn’t need the bloody thing: it’s just a comfort blanket.  Take your thumb out of your mouth, Hilary, and throw away the paper!  You won’t believe how liberating that will feel.

His old man was pretty good – still is.  Hilary Benn now needs to learn to do without a script.   He also needs to be conscious of The Hump – not just his but also that of the audience.  You can’t play an audience anything like as much as he clearly wanted till you have them warmed to you.  In this speech he could have had them standing on their heads after around the 3-minute mark.  Before that he just needed to relax them.

This generation of politicians needs hustings experience.

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