Danny Moore – in a few hours I could transform him.

At the Dublin Web Summit, in October 2011, one of the keynote speakers was Danny Moore. His company, Lough Shore Investments, nurture high-potential start-ups and have a stated goal of bringing ten great companies to exit or IPO by 2025. I have corporate clients in that line of business: his company is not one of them.

Whoever edited and posted this video decided that we should join it shortly after the beginning, replacing Moore’s opening with a slide telling us that his talk was entitled, “Entrepreneurship: seven core pillars“.  Why?  Why did they do this? Was his opening so tedious or garbled that they felt a half-seen slide could do the job better? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that it’s a dismal start to the video. It’s doing no favours at all for Moore nor Lough Shore Investments nor Dublin Web Summit. Whoever stuck this on the web needs his bum kicking.

When we do join him Moore is delivering a very downbeat resume of his education. Would you be able to tell me the name of your school and your hometown without having to look them up?  I thought so. Why then did he need to look at the lectern before naming these things? The answer is hump. At the beginning of a presentation like this, when you are assailed by nerves, there’s a temptation to look anywhere but at the audience. He surrendered to the temptation.  First impressions are very important, and this first impression is dire.

Which is a pity, because we find that Moore has plenty to say.  The trouble is that he has little idea of how to say it.

Many might have trouble with his northern Ireland accent: it is undeniably a robust example. Nevertheless we should remember that his live audience is in Dublin where ears will be easily in tune with it. If I were advising him, and conscious of the wider potential audience from a YouTube posting, I would work with him on clarity of enunciation without losing the essence of his accent.  Part of the problem is that Co. Antrim produces not just distinctive vowel sounds, but a style of intonation that to non-Irish ears implies a monotone.

I am unable to read his slides, but I am fairly certain that he is not regurgitating precisely what they say – which is good. On the other hand they are smothered in verbiage – which is dreadful. Does he want his audience to read his slides or listen to him? If he absolutely had to have any slides at all I’d restrict him to showing only the headline sentences. If I were being really assertive I’d kick all the slides into touch, and the pillars too. My problem with the pillars is that he is straying into the realm of those lame book titles, beloved of the mass self-help industry, “The five errors made by most coracle repairers“. His business surely is with bright revolutionary innovation, yet he’s selling it with the aid of the stalest of cheap cliché.

The closing is simply appalling.  He runs out of time, weakly mentions a reading list and then falls off the end. This is a keynote speech in a flagship tech conference, for heaven’s sake!  What a waste of a fabulous shop-window!

I itch to help.

 

Fareed Zakaria – so nearly excellent that it’s frustrating!

When a man has been editing for more than a decade serious international periodicals like Newsweek and Time,  all the while writing articles in a range of other distinguished organs, when he has published several books including two best-sellers, and when moreover he has hosted two TV shows and been a regular contributor to others, you could be forgiven for thinking that he must have a skill like public speaking completely cracked. You’d be nearly right. Fareed Zakaria comes close, but he could very easily be closer. I found this speech by him at the 2010 Forum 2000 conference.

Whatever possessed him to utter that first sentence that way round? I can’t believe it was deliberate, so I put it down to Hump. In fact I rushed to add to my glossary an expression of mine that I haven’t used for some time. It’s a “Neil Armstrong moment“! In fact he is seriously hump-ridden for about a minute.  I say it in courses: I say it in my book: you should always have the hump-period completely nailed, so that if the ceiling fell in you’d still cope under auto-pilot.

There are in the video footage a few small edit-points that puzzle me. In each case what is said seems to flow on smoothly enough (though any competent editor should achieve that). What did they cut out? There’s one at 1:25, another at 2:27, and several more, and they make me wonder whether he had something like a paroxysm of coughing that they decided posterity didn’t need to see, or whether he just got even more boring for a bit.

One day I shall devote an entire posting on this blog to the differences between the written and spoken word. I’ve touched briefly on the subject before, but never enough fully to cover an area that is not well enough understood by too many people that absolutely should understand it. Zakaria, it seems to me, well-used to expressing himself brilliantly on paper or speaking to camera with that particular glassy stare that typifies TV presenters when they are using Autocue, has not bothered to explore the matter further. Autocue eyes somehow absolve their owners from the sin of uttering stilted speech; but utter the same stilted speech from a speaking platform and you do yourself no favours. Writing natural-sounding speech is so enormously difficult that I teach people the simplest of shortcuts. It’s simple: but at first it takes courage. You learn to create structures: you follow your structures: you trust yourself to speak spontaneously through your structures. And that sentence was epistrophe.

Dip into this speech for instance just after the 2-minute point and what you get is stilted, halting and – frankly – tedious. Suspicious that you might be looking at the remnants of a hump you might look again shortly after 4:00 and very much the same greets you – and there’s an edit point at 4:18.  Almost slap in between, at 3:20, he briefly gets seized by the urge to talk about inflation.  For that short period he is fulfilling Cardinal 1.  He has something to say and Real Speech comes flowing eloquently out of him. The contrast between this section and its neighbours is very marked.

Overall this young man, with a meteoric track record as a communicator simply seems to lack speaking-platform-savvy.  And this extends even to his repeated popping on that damned microphone. If I’d trained him he’d be a hell of a lot better, and he’d not be popping. After a while I became so frustrated that I went searching for another example of his speaking.  I found this. He is speaking at an IBM Think Forum.

What a contrast! Here we have the best part of 17 minutes of Zakaria shooting brilliantly from the hip. He is able to do it because now he has a rock-solid mind-map structure. It’s chronology. He merely relates and discusses the economic fortunes of the globe in general and USA in particular over a series of decades. There’s even a parallel to die for at 9:45! In technical speaking terms it is fabulous stuff.

If ever there was an argument for understanding the importance, both for you and for the audience, of knowing how to create and use structures, here it is in the comparison between two speeches from the same man.  The second one appears to have been delivered a few months later than the first. Had he learnt the skill in the interim, or is he still today playing hit-and-miss Russian Roulette?

If the latter he should contact me.

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!