Newman & Trotti – moonwalking.

As part of the Think 2012 series of lectures there was one presented jointly by Dava Newman & Guillermo Trotti entitled Modern Druids – Seed Ideas for a New World. That title was enigmatic enough to provoke me to look further.

They were introduced by Shoma Chaudhury who went a long way to explaining what we were to expect from this talk – namely, that when Newman was faced with the challenge of producing a spacesuit in which astronauts could be more manoeuvrable and agile she turned to Trotti, an architect who specialises in building the impossible. He wasn’t far away at the time.

At 2:11 Newman is the first to speak, though for only half a minute. She is fighting a hump, and would make life easier for herself with an opening that was a little longer and less consequential. We are shown the whole stage in long shot for her first few seconds, and see Trotti standing stage right and waiting to speak. His body language tells me he has problems with his hands.

When he takes centre stage and begins to speak, I am confronted with a spectacle that I see so often in my work. Here we have a man who is brilliant, and bursting with presence and charisma, but who is light-years out of his comfort zone. His hump is ferocious. As expected, his hands meander around, looking for a hiding place. I groan with frustration, because in one single minute with him I could solve that problem for life. At the very beginning he does one thing right: he speaks through the short journey to where he will stand, rather than walking there in silence before speaking. But his gait during that walk screams discomfort. To my relief he warms to his theme quickly, his hump receding in the process, and even his hands begin to look relaxed. Just as he gets comfortable, he relinquishes the stage back to Newman.

A speech is like an aeroplane flight: the most difficult and dangerous bits are the take-off and landing. Whoever arranged and choreographed the opening of this double-hander (and they may have done it themselves) took care to get both back-stories covered early – which is fine – but had no proper understanding of the dynamics and manifestation of nerves, and what to do about them. Nor did they understand the rudiments of staging. This is a pity, because first impressions are so important.

What is eventually narrated from both sides of the collaboration turns out to be fascinating. They have lots to say, and they say it well – and without paper!



Will McAvoy has a lesson for us

I think most of us have become familiar with the way our online surfing habits are monitored by clever-dick pieces of software that profile our tastes, the better then to dangle under our noses advertisements for juicy morsels. Likewise if this rhetor habitually seeks speeches, who’s to blame YouTube for offering him more of what it believes to be the same? Thus it was that I found myself watching an opening scene from a piece of fictional TV.

I don’t watch much television but I understand that the HBO series, The Newsroom, is shown on my side of the pond. I’ve never seen it so I knew nothing of what I was watching, but my curiosity held my hand away from the Off Button long enough for my eyes to narrow at the graphic demonstration of some of the principles I teach.

I trust that knowledgeable fans of this series will forgive my obvious ignorance of it, while I zero in on areas of my particular expertise.

Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels, is one of a trio of celebrities in a Q&A session at (presumably) a university. The other two guests sing like canaries, but the chairman is getting pissed off with McAvoy’s not saying much. He tries to coax or even bully out of him more comprehensive exposure of his views, and fails miserably. A woman in the audience holds up a sign that then prompts McAvoy finally to deliver a very pithy little speech.

The writing of this scene is clever, not least because McAvoy is a news anchorman. When I coach people for being interviewed by the media, I try to have more than one trainee at a time; because then I can get them to interview each other. The quickest and most thorough way of developing an understanding of the nature of this ritual is by experiencing it from both sides. McAvoy is a communicator and interviews people for a living. He is far more comfortable in this environment than anyone else on that stage. He knows the most fundamental principle of all…

While it is the interviewer’s duty to draw information from the interviewee, it is not the interviewee’s duty to impart anything except on his own terms.

[I could very easily follow that headline with several hundred words of explanation, enlargement, illustration, exemplification and caveat. but I’ll spare you.]

McAvoy’s opinions are unfashionable, They run counter to the prevailing group-think. If he just plunged in and spouted his unpalatable stuff he’d be digging himself a hole and anyway would be silenced by universal disapproval. Likewise if he refused to speak at all he would be condemned as surly, snooty and obnoxious. Therefore he restricts himself to evasive utterings that are at the same time both dumb and smart-arse. In the process he creates a pent-up demand for his views, till the professor/chairman is reduced to insisting that he open up.

And now they hear him out.

I am not for one second suggesting that you try to use this video as a blueprint for a future interview, because for one thing the process is far more complicated than this example and for another you do not have a script writer to make the other side do what you want. But espousing the above principle, and never speaking beyond the end of your answer, will put you ahead of most interviewees that sully the airwaves.

As to what McAvoy actually says…well, if I were asked to deliver a talk on a subject of my choice, outside that of my work, McAvoy’s theme would be in my top three.