It is often said that speaking in public is at the very top of most people’s lists when it comes to things that fill them with dread and terror. Nevertheless, you would have to be extremely lucky indeed to manage to escape - at some time in your life, having to stand-up and say something in front of scores of your family and friends. As someone who had to talk for his living for more years that I care to remember - stay calm as I have a few tips for you. Firstly, you should always remember that nobody ever said to a person who has just made a speech - “I loved it, I didn’t want it to end, you should have spoken for longer.” So, whatever you plan to say, make it SHORT. In fact cut down what you want to say and then say it as confidently as you can, and as you are on your feet anyway, try to both inform and entertain your audience; but if push comes to shove, opt for the former.
I have been recently studying the public speaking techniques of a number of leading politicians and without stating the ‘bleeding obvious’ they do vary considerably. Donald Trump is fascinating to watch as his body language is a lot more interesting than the drivel he spouts. I wracked my brains for days when he was first elected, trying to pin down his technique and then finally came to the conclusion that he is pure pantomime and a dead ringer for Benito Mussolini. If you have ever watched old newsreels of the Italian fascist dictator making a speech it is Trump down to a T. The cheek puffing bluster, the arm waving for dramatic effect, the over-heated rhetoric, the long pauses between ludicrous assertions, so as to create time and make what he is saying somehow profound; all a bit embarrassing really. Mind you, US President Elect, Joe Biden, is as a bad at times, but in a very different way.
Without being unduly cruel, there is a rather endearing vagueness about him. Indeed, as a former Vice President he gives the impression of competence, mainly because I suspect he knows the true worth of a solid team behind him. Well, I hope so anyway! This brings me to British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Boris wants you to think that he is making it up as he goes along thus impressing us all with his lightening wit and intellectual capacity. This in reality is just a cleverly concealed double-bluff, as he really is making it up as he goes along, and so has no idea what he is talking about - charming though. The new(ish) Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, has managed to turn his rather leaden delivery style into what we are told the British nation wants at the moment i.e. stability and common sense, although his brisk managerial persona will hardly have anybody rushing to the barricades - but to say that, is rather missing the point isn’t it?
Anyway, back to my favourite subject - me! From addressing hostile meetings of angry residents who’s houses were about to be torn down for the greater good - to ingratiating myself with middle-managers at some grim conference session in Bournemouth, alas I have seen it all. On many occasions when I have reached the head-board shaking climax of my peroration there would be only the faintest possible stirrings of interest in the room, rather like an empty bag of crisps skittering across a deserted street.
I also became used to the shorthand the chairman of the company or association in question would use to faintly praise my efforts. “Thank you Mr Leavers that was most interesting” = Deadly dull. “Extremely informative” = Good Lord is that the time already? And famously - “That was very stimulating” = Are you drunk? Ultimately however, no matter how experienced you become there are times when the wheels come off when you are making a speech. If you have ever stood in front of a roomful of people and it has all gone terribly wrong you will know what I mean.
The prized routine, delivered with aplomb and flair, yet met with a strained and embarrassed silence. The faint, guttural, imitation laugh, from those members of the audience too polite to remain completely silent. The way that your stomach begins to heave and your legs begin to tremble. The realisation that you’ve lost them and no matter what you do will never get them back; but being a ‘Pro’ you battle on waving your arms around and sweating profusely, all the time pleading with the almighty himself to let it end. It always does of course, the applause rattling around The Holiday Inn Conference Suite like a rat coughing in a bucket and you find yourself with a glass of warm white wine talking to a chap who wants to sell you some personal insurance cover. Oh, the glamour of it all!
ONE-TWO: TESTING - TESTING!
The trouble with becoming competent, if never an extremely talented speech maker, is that it becomes almost like a drug for some of us. This tragic condition is known as ‘Mic-itis’. Unhappily, it is a common malady among media people, and is best described as a total and complete inability to walk past a live microphone without having to say something - anything.
Alas, I have this accursed verbal incontinence about me and regularly seek help as I’ve been told that on occasions I address Julie as if she were a public meeting. “One two, testing - testing” - is all I need to hear to set me off. Meanwhile, if you have to make a speech for some reason, stick to the basic rules. Keep it short and imagine your audience is completely naked, as I’m told that this is supposed to help. Trust me it doesn’t.