Vivienne Westwood: oh dear!

When some weeks ago I posted a critique of a speech by Stephen Emmott I quoted someone as having declared him to be the worst public speaker in the world. I was nevertheless careful – though I wasn’t desperately kind about his speaking ability – to avoid adding my voice to that claim.  Here is the reason. I’ve been sitting on this for more than a year, not knowing whether I dared expose it to the light of day.

We have previously looked at speeches made at an EU innovation convention in Brussels in 2011. One was from Michael O’Leary, another from Richard Dawkins. At that same convention was this offering from Vivienne Westwood.

It is tempting, rather than being constructive, merely to award points for every minute anyone can stand to watch this. I win!  Being built of stern stuff I’ve watched it all, several times. Perhaps its most significant moment comes at 4:30, when she says “where am I?”.

The fashion business is tough. Vivienne Westwood made it to the top of the industry forty years ago, and has stayed there. Westwood is tough. She displays remarkable chutzpah, wandering out onto that stage and embarking on this stream of aimlessly meandering consciousness.

Readers of this blog will have gathered that I favour ‘shooting from the hip’, speaking without script or notes, but the practice does require some underpinning. I teach trainees about structures, how to create them and how to use them, so that shooting from the hip becomes at least as secure as reading from a script and a hell of a lot more interesting for the audience. The only thing that Westwood essentially lacks is that knowledge and skill. When I train people, I also have to work on their confidence. Westwood already has all the confidence she needs.

She could use some help on what to do with her hands.

Let us not be too hard on her message. In promoting her views on global warming she enthusiastically cites James Lovelock, rating him alongside Einstein. Remember that this speech – in 2011 – was made before Lovelock retracted a great deal of what he had previously been preaching. It was before the UK Met Office admitted that there had been no global warming in more than fifteen years. She was being one of the helpful innocents that supported the scare. A lot of people were taken in at the time. Also, making the speech as badly as this, her helpfulness to that baseless cause was somewhat limited.

That brings me back to my main theme. She sorely needs help, which actually would not be at all difficult to provide. She could very easily be taught to speak better than most of those who have been featured on this blog. Her main ally is her chutzpah!

Happy New Year!

Thanks to masses of suggestions from readers, to whom heartfelt thanks, I have in my sights a large pile of speeches by people both famous and obscure (some of them are listed below).

Critiques will be flowing in 2013!

Meanwhile here some general tips on speaking…

Dumb is putting aside hours for preparation:
Smart is learning how to prepare very quickly.

Dumb is making sure your presentation dots every i and crosses every t:
Smart is making sure your audience understands and remembers the message.

Dumb is learning how to cope with nerves:
Smart is learning how to exploit them.

Dumb is toiling over a script:
Smart is not needing one.

Dumb is being conscious of how you are looking:
Smart is being conscious of how your audience is responding.

Dumb is thinking you can overnight become a stand-up comedian:
Smart is learning how otherwise to employ humour.

Dumb is handling the stress:
Smart is relishing your relationship with your audience.

Dumb is hoping they’ll hear you:
Smart is developing your voice and enunciation.

Dumb is practising the skill till you can get it right:
Smart is practising it till you can’t get it wrong.

Dumb is thinking that this blog is a part-work to learning the skill:
Smart is getting maximum benefit from the blog by laying down strong foundations.

And stand by to read my dissections of luminaries like Alain de Boton, Dan Pink, Danny Moore, Elizabeth de Gilbert, Vivienne Westwood, Tim Montgomerie, George Monbiot, Gawain Towler, Alastair Campbell, Roger Kimball, Donna Laframboise, Mark Steyn, Christopher Monckton, Matthew Elliott, etc.  Also I shall be revisiting some of the people we looked at in 2012.

N.B. Who remembers when I looked at Stephen Emmott, described elsewhere as the worst public speaker in the world?  I wasn’t very kind, but I didn’t give him that title. The reason is that one of those in the previous paragraph is even worse.

Stephen Emmott – unintentionally hilarious

Imagine that you were I, reading a posting on Geoff Chambers’s blog in which he described someone as having the reputation of the world’s worst public speaker, what would you do?  Well I did.

They say that a sick person trying to self-diagnose their own symptoms via the Internet is on a dangerous course.  I guess that anyone reading this blog might have supposed that all you have to do is be casual, conversational and sincere.  Shoot from the hip and everything will fall into place.

Stephen Emmott gives the lie to that theory.  There’s a tad more to it than that.  You need just a little bit of process to underpin those things.  At any rate, notepad in hand, I settled down to watch.

  • 0:36 Thank you. We now know what you know nothing about.  I suppose that’s one way to introduce yourself.
  • 1:00 Thank you.  Now we also know what you are not going to talk about.
  • 1:20 I wouldn’t bank on many questions at this rate.
  • 1:32 By that time it might be a sceance. Listen to the nervous laughter from the audience.
  • 2:20 I’m losing the will to live.
  • 3:30 Ah good: I really needed to be told even more of what you are not going to talk about.
  • 4:15 … or selling yourself.
  • 4:34 YES.  I really know what the problem is.  The problem is that I’m beginning to get the giggles.
  • 4:50 Ah!  Another thing you don’t know.
  • 5:07  From two?  Oh I see!  Move over Darwin: we’re dealing here with the Garden of Eden.

I’m sorry: I just couldn’t take any more.  He’s consumed more than five minutes that I shall never see again to tell me nothing at all except that he needs help.

Could I help him?  Yes, easily.  He has the cojones to shoot from the hip, which already puts him ahead of many when I started with them.  He just has not the first idea of how to do it.  If Microsoft can’t afford my fee they might be able to stretch to the £4.80 that would secure an e-copy of The Face & Tripod, and the kindle app is free to download for almost any electronic kit.

I wonder whether this speech comes out at the Microsoft Christmas party.