On 21 March 2013 there was held, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London, a conference for Headteachers of Outstanding Schools. It was addressed by the British Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.
We don’t get the very beginning. Was it a bald opening? I’d like to think so, but I rather doubt it. These events tend to be set about with so much formal protocol that there was probably a preamble of some sort. Speeches made by Members of Parliament, particularly Ministers of the Crown, tend to be stiff, formal affairs. Too many of them think they have to convey an aura of Statesmanship, doncha know.
In the first half minute, speaking without notes [Brian ticks box], Gove brings up the subject of Thomas Carlyle, and makes a joke about him. That early he was never going to get a laugh, but he throws the gag away, giving himself maximum benefit from it. [Brian ticks box.] He goes on to explain that he mentions Carlyle because the latter wrote a book called Heroes and Hero Worship, and that this speech will carry the same title. [Brian ticks box, and leans forward with mounting interest.]
Within one minute of starting, Gove has used humour to relax the audience rather than getting a laugh, given the speech a Face, established a decorum of conversational sincerity and shown himself prepared to shoot this speech from the hip. If he hasn’t read my book, he probably doesn’t need to. This guy is good!
Just after the one minute mark he names his first hero – Charlie. He is referring to Charlie Taylor, who is another speaker at this conference, and whose speech we will probably examine in this blog soon. We shall not be hearing speeches from others of his heroes – Cincinnatus, Pericles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, etc. but perhaps that’s a list that will persuade you to watch the speech.
It’s worth watching. If you are a regular reader of this blog and nurse any residual doubt about my obsession with paperless speaking, this should sway you. Yes there are little stumbles, minute and immediately amended mistakes, a very few ums and ers, but these all serve to reinforce the conversational sincerity that today’s audiences favour. I’d rather have speakers dealing in flawed diamonds than highly polished pebbles.
If I were working with him there is really only one area where I’d like to do some work and that is his diction. It’s better than most, and light years ahead of – say – Obama, but he swallows occasional syllables. It would take just the gentlest push to adjust that habit without losing any of his personality.
Am I a school teacher? No. Were I one, would I be taking issue with some of the things he is saying? Quite possibly. But as a teacher of public speaking I am ticking boxes feverishly up to the end. Up to the very, very end. He has a very strong closing – something that too many overlook.
I’ll repeat myself. This guy is good.