On 1 February, 2012, The Bruges Group was addressed by British journalist, Simon Heffer. The Bruges Group is a British Think Tank, known to be anti-EU. Some find it puzzling that such an organisation should call itself after a city in Belgium, but it takes its name from a speech delivered in Bruges by Margaret Thatcher on 20 September, 1988; and anyway euro-sceptics are typically very fond of Europe and its peoples, while disapproving of the unaccountable clique that runs the EU.
Simon Heffer has studied speech-making: indeed he is the compiler/author of Great British Speeches, an anthology published by Quercus. I have a copy and can vouch for the intelligent, erudite, and insightful backgrounds and summaries that he gives of the great speeches transcribed therein. I approach with trepidation conducting a critique of one of his own speeches. In the event I find myself instead exploring an interesting feature of the video recording.
His quip at the beginning harvested a satisfactory laugh, not least from me. Mindful of my global readership I know that many will not understand it. It would be pointless, trying to explain: let’s move on.
Actually I’d like to move back a few seconds, because this video gives me a chance to explore an interesting ploy that some speakers use.
The first sound we get is the very end of his introduction, and then the first words spoken by Heffer. The sound is quite different. Heffer booms in a way that his introducer doesn’t.
Rooms, like everything else have resonant wavelengths, and Heffer’s voice precisely catches that of this room which resonates in sympathy. Is he doing it on purpose? I doubt it: studying speech-making on an academic level is quite different from studying that sort of esoteric technique – and my doubt has another reason.
It is not helping him. With fairly extensive practice you can learn how to find, catch and hold the resonance of some rooms (churches tend to be easy), and use it to enhance your vocal resonance. But if you do so you absolutely must ‘turn up the treble’ on your enunciation. Your sibilant consonants must be super-crisp, and every syllable must be pronounced, or your intelligibility gets swamped by the booming echo. If Heffer was booming on purpose, he would be enunciating more clearly. There’s not much wrong with his enunciation for normal purposes, but with that booming he is quite hard to hear.
Mind you, the people in the room hear him much more clearly than we do. Our sound is almost certainly coming from the microphone built into the camera, which picks up omnidirectional ambient noise. I am sure we are not getting a feed from one of the three microphones in front of him or our sound would be much better. So does that mean that this is all purely a characteristic of the recording and that Heffer is not really booming at all, and that I have just been wasting your time? No it doesn’t. Go back and listen to the first couple of seconds again. His introducer provides us with a ‘control’. He doesn’t boom in anything like the same way. Heffer is booming all right!
Whether or not you find it difficult to hear everything he says, it is certainly worth the effort. The speech is well structured, well argued and well delivered. It is also mostly shot from the hip. Listen, mark, learn, and inwardly digest!