The speechmakers and the speech consumers

This week I have heard a lot of speeches. I was moderator of the European Commission / Luxembourg Presidency of the EU conference “25 years of Interreg“, and now I am writing this sat at the Digitalisierungskongress of the Grünen in Bielefeld.

So, as is my way, I reflect on the means of delivery as well as the words the speakers at both of these events use.

Some speakers – most normally those who are political veterans – can just start talking. These are people like Karl-Heinz Lambertz at the Interreg event. Compelling, but ultimately rambling and too long, and a personification of the Woodrow Wilson rule – “If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who read their speeches, like Sylvia Löhrmann at the Grüne event. The problem here is at the other end of the spectrum – it is clear that someone else has put the words in her mouth, and some of what she is saying she barely understands. These sorts of speeches, unless they are very skillfully written and delivered, tend to fall flat.

The problem as well with both of these sorts of speeches is that the sort of people that use either of these methods are people who give a lot of speeches, but actually listen to very few in full. Would Löhrmann actually ever tolerate listening to a speech as long and flat as the one she herself gave?

The solution I think, for most people, ought to be somewhere in between. To not start without a structure, nor to try to write the whole lot verbatim, but to have a plan. To have a series of points to make. To have a framework, and have discipline to stick to the allocated time. This is the way Alejandro Guarín spoke at Interreg – with a clear plan, but without a verbatim script.

In the end the only point of a speech is to convey something interesting to your audience. If you fail at that your speech fails. To speak without a plan, or to read a tedious text, is a recipe for failure.

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