Newman & Trotti – moonwalking.

As part of the Think 2012 series of lectures there was one presented jointly by Dava Newman & Guillermo Trotti entitled Modern Druids – Seed Ideas for a New World. That title was enigmatic enough to provoke me to look further.

They were introduced by Shoma Chaudhury who went a long way to explaining what we were to expect from this talk – namely, that when Newman was faced with the challenge of producing a spacesuit in which astronauts could be more manoeuvrable and agile she turned to Trotti, an architect who specialises in building the impossible. He wasn’t far away at the time.

At 2:11 Newman is the first to speak, though for only half a minute. She is fighting a hump, and would make life easier for herself with an opening that was a little longer and less consequential. We are shown the whole stage in long shot for her first few seconds, and see Trotti standing stage right and waiting to speak. His body language tells me he has problems with his hands.

When he takes centre stage and begins to speak, I am confronted with a spectacle that I see so often in my work. Here we have a man who is brilliant, and bursting with presence and charisma, but who is light-years out of his comfort zone. His hump is ferocious. As expected, his hands meander around, looking for a hiding place. I groan with frustration, because in one single minute with him I could solve that problem for life. At the very beginning he does one thing right: he speaks through the short journey to where he will stand, rather than walking there in silence before speaking. But his gait during that walk screams discomfort. To my relief he warms to his theme quickly, his hump receding in the process, and even his hands begin to look relaxed. Just as he gets comfortable, he relinquishes the stage back to Newman.

A speech is like an aeroplane flight: the most difficult and dangerous bits are the take-off and landing. Whoever arranged and choreographed the opening of this double-hander (and they may have done it themselves) took care to get both back-stories covered early – which is fine – but had no proper understanding of the dynamics and manifestation of nerves, and what to do about them. Nor did they understand the rudiments of staging. This is a pity, because first impressions are so important.

What is eventually narrated from both sides of the collaboration turns out to be fascinating. They have lots to say, and they say it well – and without paper!

Enjoy!

 

Sachin Tendulkar – a natural and a delight

Thanks to ABP Majha there is on YouTube a speech by the legendary Indian cricketing batsman, Sachin Tendulkar.  Sadly I am unable to tell you when or where the speech was delivered, but it is clear that it is a speech of thanks upon his being honoured with the Order Of Australia. Whatever else anyone may say about the game of cricket, it surely is to its credit and that of its players that it fosters the sort of spirit that heaps honours upon distinguished opponents.

Our first glimpse of him in this video finds him adjusting the microphone. What a pity he did it wrong!  Had he pointed it higher, perhaps at his eyes, we would have been spared the occasional popping.

How dare someone who is gifted with such gigantic sporting talent also be so naturally good at speaking! This speech is a delight.

He is slightly nervous at the beginning; and he understandably chooses to bust his hump with an effusive thankfest. At 0:38 he looks skywards as if to seek strength and inspiration, and then launches into an eminently appropriate theme – his association with Australia.

Not only does he shoot the whole thing from the hip, but he has enough inner confidence to be prepared to be seen to search for words, give pauses their full natural life and address his audience with the sort of conversational sincerity that is today’s style. It’s a beautiful piece of speaking, tailored perfectly for an occasion such as this.

All the best structures are simple. This one could not be simpler – it’s essentially autobiographical.

He tells a story about how he was invited to travel to Australia to be a special guest at the 90th birthday party of Sir Donald Bradman, perhaps the only batsman in history to be Tendulkar’s superior. The story has a punch line that draws a huge laugh from his audience; but, and you’ll have to trust me on this, it is not speaker-proof. If he’d miss-timed that punch line he would have killed the laugh.

I find myself pondering on something. I am of the school of opinion that says that a large percentage of someone’s talent consists of a fluid exuded from the brow. Tendulkar was born with a phenomenal natural ability to hit a ball, but he was not born doing it. The man worked hard to maximise his talent. Likewise he has a natural ability as a speaker, but he was not born doing that either.

How much of what we see in this speech is the result of study and work? It’s very difficult to tell … except he made that elementary mistake at the beginning with the microphone. It may be that he could suffer from the widespread problem of the Natural. For an explanation of what I mean, see Peter Schiff here. When he retires from serious cricket, he will remain a considerable celebrity, and obviously invited often to speak. If he relies too heavily on his natural ability he could come unstuck sometime. Anyone who has done that will confirm it to be a very unpleasant experience. I hope he takes the trouble to consolidate the skill.

P.S. Among other things, Tendulkar is one of the relatively few batsmen to have scored a hundred centuries in First Class cricket. This posting is the hundredth on this blog.

The Duchess of Cambridge

In March 2012, the news media bubbled with excitement over Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge having made her first public speech. The venue was one of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. HRH is patron of EACH.

The next time you are about to climb to your feet to deliver a speech, and you sense the familiar onset of your Hump, spare a thought for one who knew for certain that the slightest slip of any sort would generate a media feeding frenzy.

Regular readers might be expecting me to claim that I could cause her not to need that script, and ’tis true: I could. They might be expecting me to claim that without paper she would be less nervous and therefore safer, and ’tis true: she would. Neither she nor her advisers would have agreed to depend upon that assurance under these circumstances, and I wouldn’t blame them. But she has one key glance at the script that is a sad mistake.

If HRH was not suffering inner turmoil when she began it would be very surprising. I have mentioned before in this blog that when you are very nervous – and The Hump is just such a time – it is desperately difficult to look at the audience. HRH manages it with sweeps of her gaze over the first half of her first sentence, but then her eyes drop to her script.  The whole sentence reads,

You have all made me feel so welcome * and I feel hugely honoured to be here to see this wonderful centre.

The * indicates where her eyes dropped. The trouble is that the drop of her eyes carries an implication of the words, “it says here”. Could she not have managed to utter that sentence without being prompted from the script? Of course she could, but that is not why she looked down. She looked down because her eyes needed momentarily to escape from the audience.

It’s an excellent and appropriate opening sentence; and I have no doubt that she absolutely means it.  Under the circumstances she manages very well with the amount of audience-look she achieves, but it’s not quite enough.

So what could have been done?

If I had worked with her on this, I think I would have taken that opening sentence and moved it to the end. It would work at least as powerfully as a closing sentence, and with a much more manageable stress level by then she would not have needed to look away. Opening with how much she would have liked William to have been there with her would have been just as charming as it was as a second sentence, and her eyes escaping to her script would not have devalued it. She would still have had the same springboard from the laugh that the sentence drew, and by the time she reached that closing sentence she would be a veteran of two minutes of very strong speech.

All in all it was as fine an effort as I would expect from a Marlburian.

I am conscious that any second now HRH is due to become a mum. If the league table of stressful activities is any guide, that delivery will be, in a way, less of an ordeal than was delivering this speech. As I said at the beginning none of the rest of us have such a perilous downside risk of failure; but I shall shortly be examining a speech by one who did.

HRH’s mother-in-law.

Linda Yueh is better than she thinks

The Oxford Union debate on the motion This House Believes that the 21st Century Belongs to China took place in November 2012.  We have already heard from Lord PowellStefan Halper, Lord Wei and Sir David Tang. Today it is the turn of Linda Yueh who spoke in favour of the motion.

In the opening seconds, when I first watched her, I emitted a quiet groan. She appeared to consult her paper even to find the words, “Good evening…”. Almost immediately I reconsidered; because not only was her vocabulary unmistakeably that of the spoken rather than written variety (I’ve covered this before) but her eyes came up and stayed up most of the time. Furthermore her downward glances seemed not for getting prompting from notes. Could it be that her habit of glancing down was merely a comfort thing? If so, it would recede as her Hump receded.

It did.

She swings into a nice anecdote about the movie, Back to the Future. It results in a big, and well deserved, laugh and a ripple of applause. Her decorum has been well established. This audience now belongs to her; she’s on a roll, and she’s good.

You may think that this was to be expected: she is, after all, an experienced broadcaster. This will certainly have helped her to be able to shoot from the hip; but there is a big difference between addressing a lens and a roomful of people. Yueh knows how to work an audience.

The speech suffers a little from being reactive to what the other speakers have said. It makes it slightly disjointed and less coherent than it might have been. I want her to be articulating a much more distinct argument of her own. It emerges that she is in the process of writing a book on this very subject, so she could – and should – have come out with all guns blazing, mowing down contrary arguments in passing.

Why did she not do so? I have two theories, and both could be correct. It could be a gender thing. If a woman speaker doesn’t deliver in a macho fashion, it doesn’t mean she can’t. She could have made a policy decision based on a view that to do so could alienate her audience (and she may be right).

The other theory is that she feels less secure than her ability warrants. The downward glances during her hump are also indicative of this. She can’t help having a hump – everyone has a hump – but she can learn to handle it better. She can also be made more secure.

She’s good. She’s much better than I think she thinks she is. Ultimately only she can persuade herself of this truth, but who is going to persuade her to do that?

Allan Savory bucks the environmental trend

Last weekend I was persuaded by a posting on WUWT to watch a video that I have since watched nearly a dozen times. A TED talk by Allan Savory turns on their heads enough environmental preconceptions to drop your jaw to your lap.

Bald opening! I like bald openings because dispensing with any introductory niceties is counter-intuitively relaxing and liberating for the speaker. Nevertheless Savory still for a short while shows subtle symptoms of hump, though the downbeat nature of his delivery conveys calm, confidence and camouflages the nerves very effectively.

For a minute he seems to be treading the worn, weary and widely discredited warmist way, but he has a seismic surprise up his sleeve.

At 1:44 he stuns his audience with a sentence that very few are accustomed to hearing these days, “I have for you a very simple message that offers more hope than you can imagine.” As attention-grabbers go, that could be a lot worse.

Till 4:42 he is establishing decorum, giving background to the environmental problem that he intends to address during the talk. At precisely 4:42 there is both a video cut-away and a sentence that doesn’t quite make sense. I spy an edit point. No matter: perhaps he coughed, or something; but that point marks the beginning of his ethos. Suddenly we are into the story of him, his work, his love of wild animals, and a bitter confession. I’ll let him reveal all of that.

If in the middle of a speech you pose one huge question which, though not truly rhetorical, does not seriously expect to get a reply because there does not seem to be one, and if you throw your arms wide as you pose it, and if you then stand there silently, arms wide, staring at a stunned and mute audience for more than five whole seconds you deserve a medal for bravery. Five seconds under those circumstances is like a week. Who dares wins! He has now very powerfully set the scene for him to answer that huge question. That episode starts at 11:35, and he will hold you spellbound for the rest of the speech.

For that reason I should now shut up. He is far more interesting than I. But wait for your jaw to drop at 17:01. The audience’s applause is more sedate than the expletive that I released.

And now I shall shut up.

The real Stephen Fry is impressive.

YouTube is knee-deep in debates in which the late Christopher Hitchens attacked religion in all its guises.  Today I want to look at one such, and specifically the offering from his co-speaker against the motion “The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world”. His co-speaker was Stephen Fry.

It is only fitting that I declare in advance that I am probably the only person in the world who enjoys QI, the TV programme, despite Stephen Fry. I used to enjoy his performing in tandem with Hugh Laurie, but I find his current professional performing persona frankly irritating and irksome. He does at least now fiddle with those damned QI cards less than in the early days. (No, I am not going to say what irritates me: perhaps another time.)

My coming at it from that direction makes it, I  think, particularly telling when I say that I was deeply impressed with this speech. The principal reason is that he has allowed that performing mask to be stripped away.  You may think that an obvious requirement under the circumstances, but I could name many who might not have done.  Let’s watch it: his introduction begins at 21:10 and he starts talking at 21:28.

It appears to be a bald opening, but the speed with which the volume of applause falls off a cliff makes me wonder whether there was an edit-point there. I hope it was a bald opening, without preamble, just as with Matt Ridley a couple of days ago.

In The Face & Tripod I commend what I call “outflanking the subject”.  There is a time and place for that, but this is neither. Not only is it appropriate for him to begin with a direct statement: the manner of its delivery instantly reveals the absence of his performing mask. The hallmark of sincerity is conspicuously displayed. The statement is pursued by a courteous caveat concerning his not attacking anyone’s personal spiritual convictions. He’s doing really well.

For the first minute or two he seems to be on a carefully choreographed path (this is a sound hump-busting tactic). For instance there’s an elegant anadiplosis at 22:12. But shortly after that, when he gets onto the subject of the church having attacked The Enlightenment, his own, personal, inner fervour takes over. This is not to say that it turns into a rant: it remains disciplined. There is neither script nor notes: he has mind-mapped this speech on his own structure. Therefore he can, and does, shoot from the hip in total security. He is trusting himself to use the spontaneous words that come to him at the time. It also means that he can get a little worked up without risking falling foul of one of my favourite quotes, from Ambrose Bierce – Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.

I can only guess at the nature of his mind-map, but there are several indications that his structure operates on a modular basis.  There is, for instance, a clear module that runs from 26:52 till 27:28 – the Roman Catholic Church is obsessed with sex.  He enjoys arguing that module, as does his audience.  And it is instantly followed by another module that turns out to be his closing one.  It starts with arguing that the humble Galilean carpenter’s son would not have approved of all that ecclesiastic wealth and ends with how he – Stephen Fry – might respect the church more if it used the wealth in ways that he approved.

I absolutely do not intend here to enter the arguments that he champions. In this blog I seek out logical fallacies only when they are used as rhetorical devices. There is no question but that Fry fervently feels his message; and in that respect he is the embodiment of my Cardinal 1.

I really enjoyed watching the real man.

 

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Compering – Who’s the Daddy!

I was helping a past trainee with preparing a presentation to be delivered to a conference he is hosting early in the New Year. During our deliberations I remarked on how the conference timetable showed that his Marketing Director would be the conference MC, and I offered guidance on what that would involve.

I was asked only a few weeks ago by a firm of Conference Organisers whether I preferred that term or the word ‘Compere’, and I replied that they were different functions. Their functions are quite well described by their titles.

An MC (Master of Ceremonies) is a cross between a toastmaster and a town-crier – a very visible figure. It is someone whose job it is to bring proceedings to order at appropriate moments. My client (above) has very properly appointed a high-profile personality from the company to manage this function. The nature of the job means (though it goes against the grain to admit it) that what they say could be pre-scripted. It’s relatively easy.

A compere – as anyone with a smattering of French will see in the word – should act as a sort of father. Daddy will look after everything. He (or she – I tend not to waste time smoothing over gender specifics, but with a word like ‘Daddy’ in the frame let’s be clear that women make very good comperes) should be a relatively unobtrusive figure that simply makes everything go smoothly, relaxes the audience, relaxes the speakers and is always ready to grab the wheel and steady the ship should anything go wrong – an omnipresent safe pair of hands. The nature of this job forbids scripting.

I recommend to anyone who aspires to develop himself as a speaker that he should seize every opportunity to act as compere. The skills that are needed, and therefore honed, are plentiful and invaluable.

You are the ‘Humpmaster’. When the event begins everyone in the place is nursing his own hump. All the speakers/performers are edgy; the audience has yet to settle; it is your job to bust all those humps at once. What’s that you say? You have a hump too? Tough! You just have to ignore it, and pretend to the whole world it isn’t there. You’ll be amazed at how this improves your nerve-hiding.

You are the ‘Bridge-builder’. Have you heard or read me going on about the importance of breaking down invisible screens and building a bridge between the platform and the audience? Now you have to build a communal bridge for the whole event. Get good at that, and you’ll never again have problems on your own account.

You are everyone’s support, backstop and trouble-shooter. If you are doing your job properly you never relax: you are constantly looking ahead for possible problems and working out contingency measures. Do I have to lay out how valuable that habit is?

You are the timetable elastic. In between events you have effortlessly to motor-mouth for longer or shorter periods to cater for whatever changeover measures have to take place. The key here is to be armed with stacks of snippets of nice-to-know, inconsequential information that you can wheel out or not as required. Yes: homework!

As far as the audience is concerned you don’t matter. You are never the picture, barely the frame. All that matters is the event as a whole and the next item in it. This is actually quite liberating: you can witter away in a casual fashion, knowing that no one really cares. And that is exactly the right attitude for you to adopt. Surely you’ve spotted the developmental advantage. You are never thinking of yourself: your focus is constantly looking the other way. If you don’t know what I’m going on about here, read my book.

And all without a script. Shooting from the hip.

The better you do it, the easier it looks to everyone else. The greatest compliment they can pay you is to forget to thank you. That means the event proceeded as if on silken rails. I seriously consider the absence of a thank-you as a badge of honour, to such an extent that I itch at the end simply to slide way unnoticed.

This isn’t some phoney Lone Ranger pose – “Who was that masked man?” It’s the Jeeves effect, shimmering in and out.

As you might imagine, all this applies as much to compering a local talent show as a huge international corporate shindig; so get out there and get compering. Do it often, do it well, and progressively great swathes of previous difficulties you experienced on the speaking platform will vanish away.

And, since you ask, yes!  I’m compering Carol concerts, both in stately homes, tomorrow and Tuesday. Why do you think it was prominently in mind to make me think of writing about it?

[added 19/12/12]    P.S. Both those carol concerts have been and gone. I am proud to say that at neither was I publicly thanked.  RESULT!