The key is to have a brilliant opening and a brilliant closing, and keep them as close as possible.
For many years I used to entertain public speaking seminar audiences with that quotation by Peter Ustinov; but I stopped when too many of my audience looked at me blankly, not having a clue who Peter Ustinov was (he died in 2004). That’s when I started suspecting I was getting old. I had the suspicion confirmed when, for the purposes of this posting, I started searching not only my own books but also the internet for the quotation in order to get the wording precisely correct. I couldn’t find it anywhere. The nearest I got was a similar observation by George Burns, and that was about sermons. (George Burns was – oh never mind, he died in 1996.)
So either I got it wrong all that time, or I am so ancient that I’ve become an incompetent searcher for quotations.
At any rate, for a little Christmas entertainment both for those of us who remember him and those who never had that benefit, here is his contribution to the ITV “An Audience With …” series. It dates from 1988. For me it might have been the inspiration for the acronym LOL.
Stand by to see what a great many celebrities looked like thirty years ago.
He’s unquestionably the finest raconteur I’ve ever seen.
In 2009 a twelve-year-old girl wrote an impassioned English class assignment. The assignment became a speech that was posted on YouTube and went viral. It was on the subject of abortion.
As we have often been told, the Pro-Choice movement cares for women and their right to choose. The death threats that immediately started being aimed at this girl and her family must therefore be classified as caring death-threats.
From the classic James Bond opening, via the epistrophe that begins at 0:53, through the disturbing statistics, and concluding with the quote by Horton (the Dr Seuss elephant) this is by any standards an outstanding speech.
In May 2013 the keynote speaker for their Commencement was Shannon Bream.
The introduction by Jerry Falwell Jr, President of the University, is suitably effusive, and concludes with a brief ceremony of conferring upon Shannon Bream a Doctorate of Communication. She begins speaking at 4:03.
As a programme anchor on TV Bream will have spoken to bigger audiences, but when you are broadcasting and can’t see your audience its size is just a number. At 4:20 we get a shot of the audience, crammed into a football stadium, and I wonder whether this is the largest live and visible audience that she has addressed.
In that same shot we see her Teleprompter screens. To me they are hugely significant.
In my work, though occasionally I and the trainee will work hard to develop new skills, the first, easiest, and commonest thing is to identify the trainee’s strengths in order to build them and play to them. Bream plays to her strengths.
She is reading from a Teleprompter, and doing it very well. Of course! That’s a skill she had to develop for her work.
The words she is reading are not in written English but in spoken English and sound spontaneous. Writing a script like that is a surprisingly difficult skill (so difficult that I find it quicker and easier to teach people to structure their material in such a way as to be able to speak spontaneously without writing it). Difficult or not, that’s also a skill she had to develop for her work.
She is speaking quickly. Most would sound less intelligible or even panicky at that pace, but again it’s an occupational skill for what she does for a living.
All this would be very difficult for nearly everyone, but she is making it seem like a walk in the park and succeeding wonderfully.
The only professional error I can identify is rather cheeky and based on the assumption that she is working to a fifteen minute slot. Starting at 4:03 and ending at 19:41 she over-runs by thirty-eight seconds. You think that’s splitting hairs? You’re right of course, though you would not have been had this been a broadcast. Airtime operates precisely to the second: under-running is manageable, over-running is not. Nevertheless, this is not broadcasting and she is playing to a window she knows to be elastic. I bet her timing is more accurate than anyone else who has done this speech.
Shannon Bream’s message is rather devout. That is appropriate in this setting, though many outside the setting would be a little uncomfortable with it. I would urge them nevertheless to pay close attention. You do not have to espouse the dogma to value the philosophy.