Thursday 6 September 2012

Why Clint didn't make my day

The best public speakers throughout history share one thing in common: they all spent an enormous amount of time preparing and practicing their speeches and presentations. Winston Churchill is well-known to have invested huge amounts of time in his speeches; meticulous preparation taking many hours even during the most difficult months of World War Two. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln’s reputation was built upon delivering interesting, often inspirational, speeches – some lasting hours – which took him from small town lawyer to the White House. A modern example might be Steve Jobs who delivered brilliant presentations which seemed informal and ad-libbed but were the result of weeks of work.
Perhaps someone should have told Clint Eastwood before he walked on stage at the Republican convention to introduce Mitt Romney that, as with the finest stand-up comics, the best improvisations are rarely improvised. Eastwood, an all-American hero, was a great choice to speak immediately before Romney. He has gravitas from his on-screen roles and brilliant career while appealing to blue-collar workers who Romney has so-far failed to connect with.

Unfortunately Eastwood’s performance was far from Oscar winning, drawing ridicule from many and detracting from Mitt Romney’s own speech. Eastwood was rambling, unfocussed and didn’t deliver something which matched the occasion. He was off message and his lack of structure made it even harder for his audience to follow the arguments he did make.

There are lessons here for anyone giving speeches. Brevity comes with working on a text and honing it down, finessing and tweaking. As Mark Twain said, “I am sorry for such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Always know the purpose of your speech, your key messages, audience and time allocation. Ask yourself whether your speech meets your purpose. Clint Eastwood’s certainly didn’t, which is why he is my Mis-Communicator of the Week.

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