Anthony Watts – a tale of two paces.

On 12 June, 2015, at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington D.C. the Award for Excellence in Climate Science Communication was presented to Anthony Watts.

I need tell you nothing more about this because the award presentation was eloquently preceded by a speech from Tom Harris, Heartland Institute’s Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition.

Harris has a very relaxed, user-friendly style of speaking. Yes he uses a script, but he piles bags of his own personality into the delivery. If he’d been a trainee of mine he wouldn’t need the script, and he wouldn’t – standing at the lectern – have joined in the applause for Watts. As I’ve said before in this blog that’s one of those rare things that feels right and looks wrong, and the microphone makes it sound wrong also. I’m being picky because this is a well conceived, warm and generous tribute to Watts.

Watts comes to the stage at the 7-minute mark and collects his award. He then gives us several minutes of thanks and tributes. Aside from his also applauding from the lectern, if you have to do an extended thankfest (and sometimes you do) this is the way to do it. There’s no shallow, Oscar-style stuff, thanking the family, the dog, and the teddy bear, these are all professional peer-to-peer tributes. Only the names are on his paper. The actual tributes are shot from the hip, with the sincerity that that implies.

At 11:10 he announces a new project. For a reason that will shortly become clear I want you to note the excellently measured pace with which he shoots this section from the hip.

At this conference he also delivered a talk.

He begins by announcing that there is a shortage of time, and then sets off like a rocket. Allow me to quote myself from a recent blog article

Speaking too quickly to save time is essentially futile. Let us look at the mechanics of it. The actual words are not articulated significantly faster: the speed is in the closing of the gaps between words, in particular the natural pauses between phrases and sentences. I reckon everyone who has ever edited speech-audio has tried to save time by closing these gaps, and we’ve all done it only once because we’ve learnt the painful lesson. It doesn’t work! It’s a mug’s game: you slave for hours trimming these things, turn around and find that you’ve saved just a few lousy seconds.

Never speak too fast in an attempt to save time: take out a sentence or two instead. Otherwise your words and sentences can tumble over each other faster than the listener can absorb them.

To save time Watts should have removed something. That would have been a hellishly difficult thing to do because this stuff is so important; but the importance of the information is why he should have trimmed something out. He is addressing an expert audience, so they’ll follow it because they probably already know it; but most of the value of this talk is in educating the world via publishing the video on line. The speed of his talking will turn people away, and squander a valuable opportunity to educate more of the world.

Anthony Watts at the beginning of this posting received an award for communication. Quite right: his online contribution is matchless. In accepting the award he showed how well he can communicate with a live audience. And now he clearly shows how much his communication skill can be damaged by the apparently small mistake of having too much to say in too little time.

An important lesson for us all.

3 thoughts on “Anthony Watts – a tale of two paces.

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