Mario Draghi: from bees to boredom

In the summer of 2012, London hosted the Olympic Games. Almost simultaneously Britain launched – in London – The British Business Embassy. It would be a mark of extreme cynicism to suggest that one was riding on the back of the other.

On 26 July, 2012, at a Global Investment Conference hosted by The British Business Embassy, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, delivered a speech.

Draghi opens with a nice little metaphor about bumblebees; or rather he doesn’t, but he should. Uttering a few obligatory words of thanks to his hosts and introducer is one thing, but – like too many – he fannies around with dross before reaching his opening, the bumblebee metaphor.

It’s a good opening: he compares the Euro to a bumblebee that urban legend decrees should not be able to fly. Come the financial crisis of 2008, the bumblebee was in danger of falling to earth, so now “the bumblebee will have to graduate into a real bee”. Were I an apiarist I might bridle at the suggestion that a bumblebee is not a real bee; but I’m not, I’m a rhetor who hopes that he will run with this metaphor for longer.

He does revisit it a minute or so later, but sadly just the once. It’s a pity because it could have given this speech some much needed coherence, not to mention lift. It almost immediately fell into a mire.

Perhaps he abandoned it because he wanted to devote his eleven minutes to an orgy of self-congratulation, and the spectacle of a currency limping from crisis to crisis doesn’t lend itself too comfortably to the image of a creature buzzing around in the sunshine sipping nectar.

While he trumpeted the euro’s imagined triumphs I could think only of the economic human disaster that is Greece, the hugely expensive silken strips of empty highway that bypass impoverished villages in Spain or Sicily, all the various pieces of pointless white elephant expenditures that are the price that ordinary people pay for his being able to pat his own back and those of his co-conspirators.

Had the speech been more coherent he might just have obscured some of that. In the event he left me conscious that his is becoming merely the latest in a long line of failed attempts at taking self-determination out of the competent hands of the people and trying to centralise it in the hands of those who think they know better. Will they never learn?

Nicole Stubbs and mobile profiles.

On Friday 25 October, Nicole Stubbs, Co-Founder and CEO of First Access,  spoke at PopTech 2013. I knew it was coming, and I watched it live on line. I knew it was coming because Nicole has consulted me. We have had Skype sessions, both before and since this speech.

That opening is fabulous! Some sort of dramatic physical action like this is an excellent way of grabbing the audience’s attention, and it also is a sound hump-busting device.

This is a wonderful example! I love the cavalier way she takes these precious items and strews them around her on the floor. It puts me in mind of a supermodel on a catwalk, dragging a priceless coat behind her on the floor. Oh, how I’d love to lay claim to that brilliant piece of theatre, but I cannot! She showed it to me the first time we spoke. I loved it then, and I love it still.

I might be able to lay some claim to the steadiness of her hands during it: the camera closes in for a tight view, and at the height of her hump there is no trembling. There is a way to make sure of that, and she has read my book, The Face & Tripod. She has really read it: she quotes lumps of it at me with frightening fluency.

  • 0:43 I think I’d like one more sentence. I say, “I think” because my already knowing what all this about, it’s difficult for me to know whether the point she is making is completely clear to those hearing it for the first time. The point is made clear very shortly afterwards, but I felt it possibly needed a headline.
  • 2:48 – “awkward if you don’t…” got a nice laugh. I wonder whether adding “humiliating if you do” might have introduced a bitter-sweet tinge.
  • 4:09 beautiful pause.
  • 6:08 we on-line are given a long shot and we see the slide behind her. It’s a good one – an alliterating triad and she’s doing the right thing by speaking through it without looking at it and surrendering her focus.
  • 7:22 A hiatus! Or is it? Has something gone wrong, or is this a huge dramatic pause? If the latter, does it work?

Shall we try to find out?

Dan Pink – not bad at all.

Here’s a TED talk by Dan Pink. I’ve seen him speak on this subject when I was relaxed and not in critique mode, so I was interested to examine it here. I was delighted to see from the very start that he would shoot it from the hip, and even more pleased that he was so good that I could use my nit-picking tweezers.

Watching this footage for the first time, I felt myself tensing up when he opened with that mock-serious routine. I felt that the ‘mock’ was too transparent; he was over-cooking it; and therefore it was all too obviously a set-up for a gag. If you’ve done a course with me or read my book you will understand that I feared that the gag, this early, would bomb. I was right and wrong: right that a gag was coming, wrong that it would bomb. I’m not too proud to hold my hands up. I never argue with the market, and the market bought it – he got his laugh. I reckon he’s worked this routine often enough to have refined the timing, and I don’t argue with work either. The routine, by the way, hadn’t finished with the initial laugh and its final punch line was tasty.

TED talks, posted on line, are usually topped and tailed. Any introductions and preambling pleasantries, and endings that do not involve important questions, are trimmed off. This is no exception so we can’t tell if it is actually a bald opening, but we can tell how good it would have been if so.

Another thing TED talks do is bring visuals to the fore. Rather than our seeing them as the audience saw them – on a screen behind him – the visuals briefly take over our screen. This is good production for everyone in the world except me. I want to see how he hung on to his audience’s focus when this interloper was presented behind him. I can’t do that, but I can comment on the visuals themselves. In general they are very good, sparing in their quantity and (usually) their content. He also gets humour onto them.

Note the abundance of proper nouns. When he describes scientists’ experiments he always names the scientist and faculty. It’s courteous – yes, of course – but it is also good speaking practice. Note also, when speaking of two groups of people, his gestures put them (in our imagination) on different parts of the stage. This lends a graphic quality which is very strong. He does a great deal of geographic and mime gesturing, and does it well.

His vocal tone colouring is excellent. He varies volume and pitch dramatically, but not so arbitrarily as to be noticeable except to a sad analytical git like me. This guy is very good; and my nit-picking tweezers are threatened with redundancy. Then at 15:19 they are given purpose when a slide appears with eleven words on it. That is on the high side for almost any slide; but the killer point that emerges, as these words are repeated often, is that this is his speech’s Face.

Naturally I am delighted that he has given his speech a Face – it is a detail almost always overlooked by even very skilled speakers – but these eleven words don’t really work as a Face. They are not nearly light, tight and bright enough. It’s a reasonably smart sentence, but woefully forgettable. I watched this speech two or three times, then had to break off to go to a meeting. Driving back afterwards I could not bring to mind the words. You might like to try it yourself. I have visions of my past trainees playing with that sentence to see how much it could be improved.

So I finally found something that I could wag my finger at! But the amusing thing while I was writing this is that out of the corner of my eye I could see a list of ‘related articles’. WordPress supplies a specially designed page for writing new posts.  While you are writing their sophisticated software monitors your words, seeks out other comments on the same topic, and dangles examples that might interested you. I had a quick look and they are all on the subject matter of his talk, rather than how he conducted it. So if you’ll excuse me, I shall now go and have a read…