Getting picky with Adam Afriyie

On 26 March 2018, the AltFi London Summit had its opening keynote speech from Adam Afriyie MP.

That’s what I call a snappy introduction. It’s hard to be certain but it looks to me as if it is made by David Stevenson, Executive Director of AltFi, and he is to be congratulated on not fannying around but getting the speaker quickly onto the platform.

Every speaker has what I call a Hump, that brief period of extra nervousness at the beginning of a speech. Find me a speaker that appears not to, and I’ll find you one that has got good at disguising and abbreviating it.

There are some effective hump-busting techniques, but opening with something light, fluffy and inconsequential is not one of them. It may make for an amusing opening, and be admirable for that, but counter-intuitively it won’t help the nerves. The reason is that while drawing a chuckle or two from the audience you are also procrastinating the moment that you address the meat of your message; and that is when the hump will recede.

Afriyie opens with thanks for the invitation, moves into a little joke that is too overt to get a laugh so early in the proceedings (but which he salvages by throwing it away), an assurance that his talk will be brief to allow time for questions, and a nano-biography by way of ethos. The biog morphs into a description of the parliamentary group which he chairs. That last happens at 1:27, and up till then he is hump-bound. The second he gets into the terms of reference of his parliamentary group he’s on a roll – a good one – that carries him through to the end of an excellent speech.

I don’t want to delve into the subtle body-language hump-symptoms that I read, but there is one clear signal that everyone can see when I point it out. He has bullet-point notes on the lectern, which is infinitely better than having a script, and he looks down at them before telling us that he is Member of Parliament for Windsor. Does he need to do that? Does he not know? Or is that a classic security-blanket impulse? We know the answer. Once on a roll he barely glances at his notes again.

If I were advising him I would have him opening baldly with – e.g. “Good morning, I’m Chair of the all-party group…etc” Had he done that his hump would have lasted barely ten seconds instead of a minute and a half, and all those things in his hump-bound preamble he could have slid in later if necessary.

I’ve said it before in this blog, and I sincerely hope I’ll say it again …

I get this picky only when they’re good.