Atifete Jahjaga rises above.

In March 2012 Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kozovo, delivered a speech at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA.

The speech was streamed live on Dartmouth’s YouTube channel, which for us is significant for one particular reason. Usually when watching these videos we are eavesdropping. Here we are intended to be part of the audience.

There is a great deal wrong with the staging of this. Carol Folt, who introduces the guest, commits a series of errors.

  • Never applaud from the lectern. It may feel right, but it looks wrong and sounds worse when the microphone picks it up.
  • Never, while you are introducing, look round at the guest behind you. It looks awful and you go off mic.
  • Don’t put the guest there in the first place. She’s staring at your back, and anyway no one wants to be in view while being introduced.
  • Introducing in the second person – i.e. as if speaking to the guest – seems like a good idea till you try it. It is fraught with hazards which I would love to list here, but I have already devoted too much space to the introduction. However, before I leave the subject let me just say that I would have invited Madam President to wait in the wings till after the introduction, then enter to thunderous applause.

The above notwithstanding, Madam President was excellent throughout that introduction, standing still and dignified.  Furthermore, when before her speech she had to present an award to someone, you will notice that she knew better than to applaud from the lectern. She is a pro, as befits a Head of State.

The recipient of the award delivers a short address of thanks to her.  Because the presentation takes place in front of the lectern, he is off mic and we hear none of it.  The audience in the hall hears it: he gets a laugh from them at one point. Those responsible for staging this event should have been prepared for this eventuality. Remember, as I observed in my second paragraph, we viewers of this video were intended to be part of the audience.

Her speech begins in earnest at 9:37, and gives way to Q&A at 40:00

Though on this blog I regularly castigate speakers for reading their speeches from a script, and though everyone who has done a course with me is capable of speaking without script or notes, I do acknowledge in The Face & Tripod that there are some occasions when a script is inevitable and forgivable (and I think we can include foreign language speaking in that). I even give advice and hints for coping with the paper. Madam President appears to know all of them. I find myself mentally ticking each thing she does right. Someone has taught her well.

Given that Heads of State can never really push the envelope without generating a feeding frenzy from the press, this speech manages to avoid being too bland. There are periods of personal warmth and humour that shine through wonderfully. There is a charming section where she tells the student audience how much she enjoyed her time at university and how, when her presidential mandate is over, she plans – Cincinnatus-like – to return to teaching. She even shows her human side by mischievously offering to answer a few questions at the end despite having been told that this is normally not permitted.

We hear Madam President’s answers but not the questions. I think we can forgive the absence of a roaming mic for the audience, since Q&A was never intended to happen.

Otherwise the stage management that framed her performance was severely wanting in very many ways. Madam President rose above it by showing just the right balance of dignity and professionalism. Of its type this is really an excellent speech.

Michael Gove ticked nearly all my boxes

On 21 March 2013 there was held, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London, a conference for Headteachers of Outstanding Schools. It was addressed by the British Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.

We don’t get the very beginning. Was it a bald opening? I’d like to think so, but I rather doubt it. These events tend to be set about with so much formal protocol that there was probably a preamble of some sort. Speeches made by Members of Parliament, particularly Ministers of the Crown, tend to be stiff, formal affairs. Too many of them think they have to convey an aura of Statesmanship, doncha know.

In the first half minute, speaking without notes [Brian ticks box], Gove brings up the subject of Thomas Carlyle, and makes a joke about him. That early he was never going to get a laugh, but he throws the gag away, giving himself maximum benefit from it. [Brian ticks box.] He goes on to explain that he mentions Carlyle because the latter wrote a book called Heroes and Hero Worship, and that this speech will carry the same title. [Brian ticks box, and leans forward with mounting interest.]

Within one minute of starting, Gove has used humour to relax the audience rather than getting a laugh, given the speech a Face, established a decorum of conversational sincerity and shown himself prepared to shoot this speech from the hip. If he hasn’t read my book, he probably doesn’t need to. This guy is good!

Just after the one minute mark he names his first hero – Charlie. He is referring to Charlie Taylor, who is another speaker at this conference, and whose speech we will probably examine in this blog soon. We shall not be hearing speeches from others of his heroes – Cincinnatus, Pericles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, etc. but perhaps that’s a list that will persuade you to watch the speech.

It’s worth watching. If you are a regular reader of this blog and nurse any residual doubt about my obsession with paperless speaking, this should sway you. Yes there are little stumbles, minute and immediately amended mistakes, a very few ums and ers, but these all serve to reinforce the conversational sincerity that today’s audiences favour. I’d rather have speakers dealing in flawed diamonds than highly polished pebbles.

If I were working with him there is really only one area where I’d like to do some work and that is his diction. It’s better than most, and light years ahead of – say – Obama, but he swallows occasional syllables. It would take just the gentlest push to adjust that habit without losing any of his personality.

Am I a school teacher? No. Were I one, would I be taking issue with some of the things he is saying? Quite possibly. But as a teacher of public speaking I am ticking boxes feverishly up to the end. Up to the very, very end. He has a very strong closing – something that too many overlook.

I’ll repeat myself. This guy is good.