Tim Smit or, to give him his full title, Sir Timothy Bartel Smit KBE is the man behind the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall. I first heard him speak when he presented the prizes at Moreton Hall School. My sons had been there. I directed the school’s annual play for more than twenty years, and Tim’s son starred in one of them. Having witnessed two decades of prize-giving speeches of varying quality by a succession of peers, prelates and parliamentarians, I tell you confidently that Smit easily eclipsed them all. Therefore when a reader of my Auracle newsletter sent me a link to a speech he had done for Do Lectures I eagerly clicked myself to it.
My main reason for featuring him here is because he epitomises the doctrine that I repeat often in The Face & Tripod, and that I bang on about on courses. He is looking “the other way”.
He couldn’t care less about himself and how he looks (the way he dresses is also evidence of that). He is concerned only with his audience, and the manner of getting his message across to them; and this makes him compulsive watching. Anyone can be made to speak with the same aplomb if they only will abandon themselves to the same degree. And nearly all those on courses with me come very close to that before the end of one session. While watching this speech, just as I did when watching that prize-giving speech, I find myself ticking off all the mistakes he’s not making.
And of course he is shooting from the hip.
This is for me a rare speech critique inasmuch as I have no complaint about sound quality, which is excellent. But you may be expecting me to castigate him (or someone) for the dark areas into which he disappears, for instance at 2:52. It’s true that the lighting of that stage is a little stripy, with over-bright areas giving him a dazzle-frown and then apparently stygian patches elsewhere; but note the word “apparently”. We, through the camera lens, are eavesdropping on a live talk. The lighting was set for the live talk. The camera is exaggerating the contrast of light, by squeezing down its iris against the bright spots. The human eye would be more forgiving. Look what happens when we cut to another camera at stage left (2:58): you’ll see he’s not actually speaking in pitch darkness.
But there is a more significant factor to all this. Look how he seems to seek out those dark spots, staying in them once he finds them. To us watching the video, it seems at first to be perverse. Doesn’t he want to be seen? Why does he appear to cling to those dark areas? The answer is very simple, and returns us straight to two paragraphs above. He likes those areas because there, in the absence of dazzle, he can focus more easily on his audience. Therefore I warm to this habit of his: it is symptomatic of exactly the right speaking mind-set.
In The Face & Tripod I discuss the rights and wrongs in using humour, and explain at length the value of the early throw-away. Smit has a beautiful example at 0:28 – “all called Nigel”. He gets everything right with this: right timing, right wording, right rhythm, and thrown away during the first minute of the speech.
Other than that I’d rather not say too much about this speech, other than exhorting you to relax, enjoy and watch it all.
There are more examples of him here and here. Essentially they are very much the same speech: at least they use the same modules. In my latest Auracle Newsletter – emailed last week – I discussed all three speeches and how best you can use this form of modular construction. I may in the New Year adapt that for this blog.