Talking Heads and Popping

Goodbye November: hello December.

Regular readers – if such a new blog can actually yet be said to have regular readers – will probably already have noticed two distinct trends emerging in the speech critiques so far posted.  They are my impatience with those who read their speeches from scripts (what I call ‘talking heads’) and with those whose microphone technique is so poor that their percussive consonants cause popping sounds to punctuate their speeches.

If you had begun to wonder whether this indicated that I was possessed with a narrow range of just two obsessions, then kindly stand in line behind me.  I have long wondered that also.  But the more speakers and speeches I hear – and, as you might expect, I have already heard more of both than any sane person should expect in several lifetimes – the more I find that these are by far the two most widespread errors.  Furthermore, to add to my frustration, they are both easily remedied.

Talking Heads.

In these critiques I always try to find examples wherein you get the comparison of seeing the same person both reading his speech and then at some other time ‘shooting from the hip’ as I call it.  I hope that you thus get to see and marvel at the transformation.  It is not just a minor detail: it puts the speaker immediately into another class.

When people are asked about speakers or speeches that impressed them, a comment that nearly always comes out is along the lines of, “He spoke for twenty minutes without once referring to any notes.”  That suggests it to be a rare skill and therefore a premium bonus.  It is not – or should not be – a premium bonus.

I have lost count of the number of times I have had the following said to me, “You’ll never get me to be able to do without a script”.  (This comes out often at the preliminary meeting that I usually have with a prospect trainee.)

For more than twenty years I have uttered the same reply – and it remains true to this day, “If I don’t, you’ll be the first.”

The skill boils down to two simple principles –

  • You need to know how, and
  • You need to know you can.

It doesn’t matter how thoroughly you learn the first of those, you are never going to dare try it ‘in anger’ unless and until you know you can.  So if I conduct a course with you I not only explain how, but also I very thoroughly prove to you that you absolutely and easily can.  In my book The Face & Tripod I cover the first element, and make suggestions on how you can deal with the second.  I admit that the result may not be as secure as doing a course with me, but it is one hell of a lot cheaper!

I don’t care who you are: you – reading this – can make a speech without using paper.  I say that with total confidence.  You could make a twenty-minute speech without reference to any script or notes.

So what price now “a premium bonus”?   It’s not a bonus: its absence is a grotesque failing.  And as you have already seen in this blog the failing is appallingly widespread – even among those who are actually paid money to speak!.  I’d love to change the universal attitude to paperless speaking.  It should not be regarded as a rare skill belonging only to special people: it should be the norm.  Those who make speeches from scripts should be regarded as sad numpties beyond the pale.

I admit in my book that there are occasions and good reasons when there is no escape – you have to use a script.  But those who have learnt to do without manage scripts better.  Look back at Boris from a couple of days ago.  He was using a script, but I forgave him.  It wasn’t because he was Teacher’s Pet (remember I bollocked him for popping his microphone): it was because he spoke as if spontaneously.  And there was a reason for that.   It sounded spontaneous because it was spontaneous.  Look back at his video and you’ll see he manages with only occasional glances at the script to keep him on his speech-writer’s track.  He is shooting from the hip.

In the next week or so we’ll have an example of a sitting British MP, with videos of two speeches: one where he had to have a script and one where he didn’t   The difference is dramatic.  We also have two examples from a recent British Prime Minister, one speech with a script and one without.  The difference is even greater.

Tomorrow I hope to look at microphone popping.

 

 

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