Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Is the Day of the Autocue Over?

Someone I met yesterday told me about an event he attended last week at which both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were speaking. He said Clegg used an autocue, was wooden and unengaging, while Ed Miliband didn't use an autocue, wandered around the stage and connected with his audience.

More and more politicians are dispensing with an autocue and quite right too. It's a fraud on the audience. No one can look totally natural using an autocue and few politicians can carry it off without looking shifty. Reagan was one of the few politicians who exploited the medium without coming across badly, but I find it hard to think of many modern day politicians who can emulate him. Possibly Tony Blair.

Of course, no politician can be an expert on every subject he or she makes a speech on - so some sort of script is often necessary. One thing I have learned over the years is that if I have a script, and am speaking on an unfamiliar subject, I read the first few words of a paragraph and then look at the last few, and then extemporise the words in between. If you've read through the speech a couple of times it usually works. The audience often doesn't realise you actually have a script if you play it right.

So what are your tips for making a successful speech?


Anonymous said...

I was at that same event, and Ed Miliband suprised me - he was a really engaging speaker. He was clever, funny, interacted with the audience, and seemed totally genuine.

I think he gets lumped in with his brother, who is not necessarily wooden, but is quite distant and a bit arrogant.

Ed could have a bright future in Labour's dwindling pool of charisma.

Paddy Briggs said...

Did you see Ian McKellen at the Baftas? All the other actors were very visibly reading from the autocue. McKellen looked as if he wasn't - and came across much better. My guess is that actually he was using the autocue - it's just that he is such a pro that he looked as if he wasn't!

Chris Paul said...

Seven Habits of Successful Speech Makers

First, write an hour-long speech which is mostly style and with little substance, with that being the sort of old time dog whistles that your audience love.

Second, re-work and re-work and re-work it and learn it verbatim until you have it off pat.

Third, spin only that you are going to speak WITHOUT NOTES. There is no content in the speech anyway, so, yes, spin that it'll be delivered without notes - more or less.

Fourth, make sure you point out you're not using notes at least a couple of times near the top.

Fifth, deliver speech and enjoy the fact that despite going into the conference hall naked you have worked your cock and bull off delivering the thing WITHOUT NOTES.

Six, carelessly leave a couple of pages of scribble in camera view and discard them on stage. NB You are a "memory man" so try to remember not to scribble these on the back of your 100% scripted text that you have just spewed out verbatim.

Seven, similarly make sure there are no copies of the whole thing lying around. Discovery of these will blow the idea that you have actually extemporised from a couple of sides of scribble. Or that "mistakes" in fact and syntax are in the heat of the moment. If you are found out on your one spinning point: "Without notes", the lack of substance will become evident.

Alex said...

When I give speeches, or more likely talks and presentations, I write the speech / talk, memorise the key points / ideas and then do the whole thing off the cuff. The trouble is I usually leave bits out.

I suspect that politicians will continue to use the autocue for as long as there are soundbites. Autocues help them get the catchy phrase to their audience.

Anonymous said...

When I'm giving a speech, the main thing is to arrive in a helicopter. After that everything else usually falls into place.

Anonymous said...

Cameron setting the agenda again!

When will the old make way for the new?

Anonymous said...

Agree that Ed is the sharper cookie of the two.

But what is this, Iain ? More vapid ramblings on subjects that have only a passing connection to politics.

Give us some news, man !

Anonymous said...

which event was this, please?

Anonymous said...

Yes - you need an actor's sense of timing to use an autocue - hence it worked for Reagan and Blair and possibly Ian mcKellen

Newmania said...

I like the word auto-cutie for Natasha Kaplinsky et all (£1mio p.a. ..but is she happy ). It does not come up to fauxmosexual 'New Man'. Or back to Natasha ,’Foxier-moron’ for a woman who is promoted for her telegenic qualities only( Louise Bagshawe , Caroline Flint or is Andy Burnham a Foxier-moron , and does he wear mascara , we should be told)

Glyn Davies said...

If you are using a script, don't pretend that you are not. The audience will think you are trying to deceive them.

Newmania said...

I think Glyn wrote that from a script ...I feel betrayed , violated and bereft

Anonymous said...

a good live speech should have a sense of "danger" about it - just enough that the speaker feels the need to work hard to rise to the occasion and engage their audience in order to get their point across. autocues, like powerpoint presentations, remove this fear of failure and lead to mundane and forgettable speeches.

stand-up comedians and professional speakers understand this. perhaps we need more slow hand-clapping of politicians when they are failing to perform. would not a bit of old-fashioned heckling sort out the wheat from the chaff? rhetorically speaking.

Anonymous said...

sorry Iain, what were you saying again?

Anonymous said...

cicero said
"stand-up comedians and professional speakers understand this"
unfortunately most speeches by politicians are neither funny nor professional.

Anonymous said...

Speak slowly. If you think you sound sub-normal, then the speech will come across about right to the audience. Use pauses as much as you like. Both techniques also help you to spend a higher proportion of time looking at audience, even if you have a script or reminder cards.

Anonymous said...

I recently, uhhm, attended a "train the trainer" day for, err, professional, errm, trainers.

Number 1 attribute for a successful public speaker - passion for your subject. And if politicians arent passionate about their subject then let's assume they are merely there to get reelected to a comfy sinecure. I believe that if you passionately believe in what you are talking about then autocues are unnecessary. You will actually prefer to speak off-the-cuff with a few notes to guide you. This seems to be your own view.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Actually believing what you say helps, and not the usual bullshit peddled by politicians.

I am still impressed by Cameron's decision to speak without an autocue. He managed to sound sincere.

Arriving at your personal style takes time, but a rehearsal in front of a sympathetic and patient friend works wonders - someone who will compliment you, or tell you you sound like a tit.

Learn to sense the audience (unless all you are doing is corporate videos) All "performances" are an interaction between the giver and the receiver. A good speaker will guage the mood. Hitler had the luxury of creating a mood first, but beware of who you are following - your witty opener may fall flat if the previous speaker has been discussing kids with cancer.

Speak slowly, as others have said, and it will work miracles. Gabble and you come across as nervous, with no faith in what you have to say.

I have been "performing" in public or in the broadcast media on and off for 40 years. A few nerves wont hurt and neither will a sound grasp of your material.

Great speeches come from conviction, from the heart, from the soul. An autocue is a mechanical device, not a channel for the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Don't cuff it!

Anonymous said...

Avoiding using an autoscript gives a much much better impression and if done right can come across as though you really know what you're talking about. This is something that can happen if you read it from a script and if it is obvious that you are doing so.

Anonymous said...

can someone tell me which event this speech was made at? id be keen to read the transcipts and/or view a video if it was recorded. do you know iain? thanks

The Remittance Man said...

Glair sin't not look shifty when he was speaking. He just looked shifty all the time so no one noticed the difference.

Then again, if he'd had some crib cads in his hands he might not have constantly made those unnatural "thunderbird puppet" gestures.

Anonymous said...

Chris Paul

Cameron's speech at the Tory Conference was sensational. It was a daring, courageous thing to do and it blew Brown's honeymoon away.
Get over it and move on.

Anonymous said...

Can't say I was ever taken by the Cameron speech, Ken Clarke's was brilliant but that wasn't the media theme for that day of Conference.

When I first started speaking regularly a friend pointed out that I knew more about my chosen subject, an aspect of Local History than anyone else in the room would know. Knowing that does help the confidence.

Someone else gave the professional advice that you should spend 10 hours preparing 1 hour of speaking. Very good advice. My problem now is I am so picky with Powerpoint that I find it hard to keep preparation down to that level.

Powerpoint, OHPs, old fashioned slides can be useful. It helps that they are consistent in style, but really, you don't want to use half the screen to display some rather pathetic logo, slide after slide.

Reading stuff is one of the hardest tricks around, especially if you haven't written it. Better then to know your subject inside out and have the briefest of notes to keep you on track. I find that works well in the council chamber. If you can do that don't speak too soon in a debate, then you can pick up on the unfortunate words of the other side and make your speech seem truly spontaneous.

Anonymous said...

Wrinkled Weasel said:
"Great speeches come from conviction, from the heart, from the soul. An autocue is a mechanical device, not a channel for the Holy Spirit."

well said mate

Anonymous said...

I suspect the speeches referred to were made at the
Guardian Public Services Summit
last week.

Jeremy Jacobs said...


I posted this on my main site recently.

and this by Jeff Pulver, whom I interviewed on JCom Radio last night.

Nonkey1 said...

I'm puzzled by this adoration of Milliband.
I know he's chums with most of you.
But he's straight off Thunderbird Island, isn't he?
He and the other one - Bradshaw , is it?
How to make a successful speeech?
Depends on how you define success. I used to write speeches in the dim and distant. Sometimes a successful one was one that made the front page; other times, it was one that even the audience didn't remember.
Someone (Lane Kirkland - though he might have got it from someone else) once reported on a conference to this effect:
"The speech contained much that was true and much that was interesting. Sadly, the interesting bits weren't true; and the true bits weren't interesting."