Michael Pritchard – workmanlike

I came across a TED talk by inventor Michael Pritchard. I have watched a great many Ted talks, and have often been disappointed, but this one is good. I also see that to date nearly 1.6 million others have seen it since it was posted in 2009. It concerns Lifesaver, a flask that can turn disgustingly dirty water into drinking water in seconds, and I’ll leave you to consider the implications of that.

The first observation I make is that Pritchard is not a natural speaker (though assiduous readers of this blog will know that being a natural speaker is not necessarily all that it’s cracked up to be – here’s an example). There is a slight tautness in his delivery that tells me that Pritchard has worked very hard at getting his speaking to the level it has reached. There is also a tautness about the structure of the content that commands attention.

His visual slides are used very sparingly, and have greater impact for that. Also they are used only to set the scene and highlight the problem. When he reaches his answer to it, all the visual aid comes from his own live demonstration. He gleefully prepares a really revolting solution (I would be specific, but you’ll find it more fun to watch); then he pours some into one of his flasks, and seconds later drinks it. It is very impressive.

The next section of the speech is occupied by apparently reiterating the problem, and at first I felt with regret that we were just going over the same ground. I was wrong: the scenarios he now shows are subtly different now that we have seen his magic flask in action. Now we instantly and instinctively work out for ourselves how disaster relief has always had to carry huge and heavy quantities of stuff that is abundantly lying uselessly around – water. Now that very stuff can be put to use.

It’s a good speech, delivered in a workmanlike and businesslike manner. The structure has a very strong narrative which makes it digestible and compelling.

I would have cut out the final two minutes, which for me did not really hang together with the narrative of the rest; but as an example of how to construct a business pitch this is copy-book stuff.

I was not surprised, when I found elsewhere some footage of him pitching another invention on The Dragons’ Denthat he got himself a deal.

Ron Finley plays a blinder.

I came across this TED TALK. The speaker is Ron Finley. He’s a fashion designer.

Before the greeting applause has died down comes the first sentence. “I live in South Central”. That’s ethos if I want you to look at my glossary page. And the ethos continues till we reach a glorious pair of sentences,

South Central Los Angeles, home of the drive-through and the drive-by. The funny thing is the drive-throughs are killing more people than the drive-bys…

This man has grabbed my interest by the throat, and satisfies my curiosity immediately by explaining that the biggest killer in his neighbourhood is obesity.

So the story unfolds, and the beauty is that it is a story. How I urge people to build a speech on a structure that creates a narrative thread! It makes it much easier to deliver and much more digestible to receive.

Needless to say, Finley shoots this entirely from the hip – look at the empty hands in that picture! – and restricts his visual slides to only those that will enhance the narrative. The speech is around 10 minutes long (the last minute is a message from the sponsor). It’s a beautiful and exemplary piece of speaking; and rather than steal any more of your time I’d prefer to let you simply enjoy it.

Except … I really can’t resist doffing my rhetor hat long enough to observe that this story gives the lie to the fiction we are frequently fed by officialdom and their cheerleaders in the media, namely that The State and Society are one and the same. Here we have a story of a community bypassing officialdom, and helping itself in a manner that is positive, logical, beautiful and which officialdom vehemently opposed till they saw votes in it.


Dan Pink – not bad at all.

Here’s a TED talk by Dan Pink. I’ve seen him speak on this subject when I was relaxed and not in critique mode, so I was interested to examine it here. I was delighted to see from the very start that he would shoot it from the hip, and even more pleased that he was so good that I could use my nit-picking tweezers.

Watching this footage for the first time, I felt myself tensing up when he opened with that mock-serious routine. I felt that the ‘mock’ was too transparent; he was over-cooking it; and therefore it was all too obviously a set-up for a gag. If you’ve done a course with me or read my book you will understand that I feared that the gag, this early, would bomb. I was right and wrong: right that a gag was coming, wrong that it would bomb. I’m not too proud to hold my hands up. I never argue with the market, and the market bought it – he got his laugh. I reckon he’s worked this routine often enough to have refined the timing, and I don’t argue with work either. The routine, by the way, hadn’t finished with the initial laugh and its final punch line was tasty.

TED talks, posted on line, are usually topped and tailed. Any introductions and preambling pleasantries, and endings that do not involve important questions, are trimmed off. This is no exception so we can’t tell if it is actually a bald opening, but we can tell how good it would have been if so.

Another thing TED talks do is bring visuals to the fore. Rather than our seeing them as the audience saw them – on a screen behind him – the visuals briefly take over our screen. This is good production for everyone in the world except me. I want to see how he hung on to his audience’s focus when this interloper was presented behind him. I can’t do that, but I can comment on the visuals themselves. In general they are very good, sparing in their quantity and (usually) their content. He also gets humour onto them.

Note the abundance of proper nouns. When he describes scientists’ experiments he always names the scientist and faculty. It’s courteous – yes, of course – but it is also good speaking practice. Note also, when speaking of two groups of people, his gestures put them (in our imagination) on different parts of the stage. This lends a graphic quality which is very strong. He does a great deal of geographic and mime gesturing, and does it well.

His vocal tone colouring is excellent. He varies volume and pitch dramatically, but not so arbitrarily as to be noticeable except to a sad analytical git like me. This guy is very good; and my nit-picking tweezers are threatened with redundancy. Then at 15:19 they are given purpose when a slide appears with eleven words on it. That is on the high side for almost any slide; but the killer point that emerges, as these words are repeated often, is that this is his speech’s Face.

Naturally I am delighted that he has given his speech a Face – it is a detail almost always overlooked by even very skilled speakers – but these eleven words don’t really work as a Face. They are not nearly light, tight and bright enough. It’s a reasonably smart sentence, but woefully forgettable. I watched this speech two or three times, then had to break off to go to a meeting. Driving back afterwards I could not bring to mind the words. You might like to try it yourself. I have visions of my past trainees playing with that sentence to see how much it could be improved.

So I finally found something that I could wag my finger at! But the amusing thing while I was writing this is that out of the corner of my eye I could see a list of ‘related articles’. WordPress supplies a specially designed page for writing new posts.  While you are writing their sophisticated software monitors your words, seeks out other comments on the same topic, and dangles examples that might interested you. I had a quick look and they are all on the subject matter of his talk, rather than how he conducted it. So if you’ll excuse me, I shall now go and have a read…

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.