In March 2012, the news media bubbled with excitement over Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge having made her first public speech. The venue was one of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. HRH is patron of EACH.
The next time you are about to climb to your feet to deliver a speech, and you sense the familiar onset of your Hump, spare a thought for one who knew for certain that the slightest slip of any sort would generate a media feeding frenzy.
Regular readers might be expecting me to claim that I could cause her not to need that script, and ’tis true: I could. They might be expecting me to claim that without paper she would be less nervous and therefore safer, and ’tis true: she would. Neither she nor her advisers would have agreed to depend upon that assurance under these circumstances, and I wouldn’t blame them. But she has one key glance at the script that is a sad mistake.
If HRH was not suffering inner turmoil when she began it would be very surprising. I have mentioned before in this blog that when you are very nervous – and The Hump is just such a time – it is desperately difficult to look at the audience. HRH manages it with sweeps of her gaze over the first half of her first sentence, but then her eyes drop to her script. The whole sentence reads,
You have all made me feel so welcome * and I feel hugely honoured to be here to see this wonderful centre.
The * indicates where her eyes dropped. The trouble is that the drop of her eyes carries an implication of the words, “it says here”. Could she not have managed to utter that sentence without being prompted from the script? Of course she could, but that is not why she looked down. She looked down because her eyes needed momentarily to escape from the audience.
It’s an excellent and appropriate opening sentence; and I have no doubt that she absolutely means it. Under the circumstances she manages very well with the amount of audience-look she achieves, but it’s not quite enough.
So what could have been done?
If I had worked with her on this, I think I would have taken that opening sentence and moved it to the end. It would work at least as powerfully as a closing sentence, and with a much more manageable stress level by then she would not have needed to look away. Opening with how much she would have liked William to have been there with her would have been just as charming as it was as a second sentence, and her eyes escaping to her script would not have devalued it. She would still have had the same springboard from the laugh that the sentence drew, and by the time she reached that closing sentence she would be a veteran of two minutes of very strong speech.
All in all it was as fine an effort as I would expect from a Marlburian.
I am conscious that any second now HRH is due to become a mum. If the league table of stressful activities is any guide, that delivery will be, in a way, less of an ordeal than was delivering this speech. As I said at the beginning none of the rest of us have such a perilous downside risk of failure; but I shall shortly be examining a speech by one who did.