Chewing my keyboard

Saturday, July 31, 2004

How to make a speech:

My contribution to this is here:

Joseph Goebbels didn't really contribute much positive to society... However, he did say a couple of useful things and those were to do with making an effective political speech. It is to him that we can attribute the phrase 'Throw enough mud against the wall and some of it will stick' i.e. repeat your point numerous times and you'll convince people that it's valid. He also (according to my old history teacher) told us that you should only ever make 3 points in a speech regardless of how long it is. The trick is, of course, to rehash your point several times in slightly different ways.

Another useful tip is to start a controversial speech (or indeed any speech at all) by telling people positive things. Complimenting them is often a good tactic. After all, how could you EVER disagree with someone who's telling you how great you are!

As someone whose been to a couple of party conferences and is keen to improve their speech-making skills, I've picked up another useful tip and that's keywords. These are words that form the base of the belief system of the group you're talking too. In the case of Lib Dems they're things like 'freedom', 'liberty', 'human rights' and 'our common humanity'. Add a couple of these keywords at critical moments and you can have them all leaping about in the aisles without saying anything of substance whatsoever (people with other political allegiances can replace these ones with their own choice of 'buzzwords').

[Exercise: watch a couple of politicians in action - the higher profile the better, and try to work out the 'keywords' by which they can cause the audience to surge to their feet and applaud vigorously. You'll find it's not when they've just concluded an argument of immense gravity and importance - they'll have said something like "Tell the world why you're proud of America... [because] being American means being free. That's why they're proud " which adds zero to the sum of human knowledge but, well, it makes the Americans feel really GOOD about themselves...]

To test this theory and to amuse my flatmate, I spent an entertaining 5 minutes demonstrating the theory that you can construct an entire speech (or at least the beginning 1/3 of one) from the above rules without actually needing to add any information at all. I made grave pronouncements and grandiose gestures interspersed with sweeping pauses... It was profound! It was dynamic! It was completely meaningless... Here is the (absence of content) in full:'Fellow delgates... This weekend we have shown the gravity of our intent [dramatic pause]. We have spoken with seriousness... and with conviction [pause for effect]. We have worked hard, fellow delegates, and I take this opportunity to stand and thank you for your unyielding determination that has permitted us to be here today [final 3 words emphasised](probably at least one round of applause by this point). We have remained uncowered and this has allowed us to take bold leaps forward and to show the world what we are made of. Yes [emphasised strongly. Pause]. And we have done that [pause]. But we must continue. Our fight is NOT over. We must take it forward, fellow delegates [voice begins to rise]. We must strive for freedom. We must press for liberty. We must recognise our common humanity in this struggle [voice drops](audience should be hyperventilating by now). But I have great confidence in you. You have shown time and time again that you have what it takes to do what needs to be done.[HUGE PAUSE] I trust in you to do it again... Etc.'

I'm not the only person to pick up on this one, by the way. It also appeared in a political satire called 'In the Red' on BBC2 in 1998. It involved a rather self-important politician who spent a lot of time eating in the Ritz and his speechwriter did everything else. At the end, the nubile daughter of said politician ended up in a passionate clinch with the speechwriter who had left his cassette recorder going. This was, of course, the tape he used for recording the politician's speeches and thus the latter part of the speech he was going to give to the Commons consisted of a transcript of the young couple's foreplay. The speech was amazingly well received and received a standing ovation despite making no sense at all...

All this talk of clinically tugging the heartstrings whilst saying nothing sounds terribly cynical and, indeed, it is. Surely politics should be about working to change the world for the betterment of society rather than trying to convince people how great you are (and how great they are) whilst "compress[ing] the most words into the smallest idea" (Abraham Lincoln)? It is, of course, fine in moderation (exciting your audience is helpful to the presentation of your material) and clocking up a few mentions of 'our common humanity' is innocent enough (annoying if you actually want an idea of someone's policy from their speech and they spend the first half telling you that you're brilliant. I mean, I know I am already - tell me something useful. I once attended a fringe on Europe like this - they spent the entire time telling us how insightful we were to be in favour of the Euro whereas I'd gone to find out why our pro-Euro arguments beat anti-Euro ones... I should have just got a book).


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