[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
The art of public speaking... revealed
In the words of one Democrat after John Kerry's long-awaited speech to his party's convention: "He was good, but he's no Clinton." When it comes to public speaking, what does it take to hold a crowd?

He may be an experienced and highly adept politician, but even John Kerry's supporters acknowledge their man has a notable weakness: his public persona.

With his speech to the Democratic Party's convention on Thursday Mr Kerry turned in a better performance than many had expected.

But unlike Bill Clinton, or even his running mate, John Edwards, Mr Kerry is judged not to be a natural public speaker.

Of course it's not only politicians who wrestle with this tag. A new guide in the UK exposes some of the heart-stopping clangers that have cropped up in wedding speeches. In one case a groom got his bride's name wrong while another made a business-like presentation complete with overhead projector.

But all is not lost. Here, Max Atkinson, who once trained a public speaking novice to address a political party conference - and saw his pupil receive a standing ovation - delivers the key messages.


Bad speeches can be disastrous for weddings
Good speeches are memorable ones, and to that end the more rhetoric, the better. A key device in lodging phrases in the minds of an audience is the "list of three", which dates back to Classical times - "veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered)". Then there was "the father, the son and the holy spirit". Later came "liberté, égalité, fraternité" followed by Abraham Lincoln's "government of the people, by the people, for the people".

More latterly, there was former Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell's "fight, fight and fight again [for the party]" and Tony Blair's "education, education, education".


Setting out a puzzle, pausing and solving it for your audience is another time-honoured technique says Mr Atkinson. For example, Ronald Reagan declared his candidacy for the American presidential election in 1980 by offering up these words: "This is a moment of quite some mixed emotions for me... I haven't been on prime-time TV for quite a while." Another memorable example is Margaret Thatcher's "You turn if you want to... the lady's not for turning."


The average applause during a speech lasts about eight seconds, says Mr Atkinson. For a more rapturous reception combine these two techniques. Benjamin Disraeli carried it off well with "There are three kinds of lies... lies, damned lies and statistics, while the full Tony Blair quote actually went "ask me my three priorities... education, education, education."


Martin Luther King
A "master" of imagery in speeches, says Max Atkinson
Imagery requires the use of skilful similes. Think Denis Healey's observation that being attacked by [Tory chancellor] Geoffrey Howe was "like being savaged by a dead sheep". Or Muhammad Ali's "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee." Martin Luther King was the master of imagery, says Mr Atkinson, noting how his "I Have a Dream" speech started with an extended banking simile. "We have come to our nation's capital to cash a cheque" before going on to talk of the "tranquilising drug of gradualism".


Amplification and the prevalence of wireless microphones enable speakers to get away from the lectern and walk as they talk. Mr Atkinson approves, so long as the speaker's movements aren't monotonous. "Moving around helps to drain the adrenalin; stops the build up of physical tension."


The words alone are not enough. The best public speakers practise their delivery. "When I first started working with Paddy Ashdown he never practised his speeches," recalls Mr Atkinson of the former Lib Dem leader. "It never occurred to him. But I advised him and after that he would practise hard to the extent he would read his speech out to an empty conference hall the night before."

Lend Me Your Ears by Max Atkinson will be published in September by Random House.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific