Thursday, August 05, 2010

Julia, Tony, and Bob

The other night, as I was driving home from work I was listening to ABC radio. The studio guest, whose name escapes me was a political scientist discussing what would have been the 150th birthday of Australia's second Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin. Deakin apparently had a reputation for being a very engaging speaker. Politicians of his era put a lot of effort into their speech craft. The contemporary situation is far different, at least in Australia. Making a good speech is something of a forgotten art. Most of the time our politicians condense their public statements into easily digestible soundbites. As far as Australian politics is concerned, you'd need a long memory to recall the last time an Australian politician gave an inspiring or moving speech.

Visitors to this blog, such as they are, will notice that this author has had some involvement in Toastmasters. What would happen if Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, or Australian Greens leader Bob Brown came to a Toastmasters meeting and gave a speech? Every speech made in Toastmasters is evaluated, based on what we call the Praise-Improvement-Praise model. The purpose of this is to give the member constructive feedback, but in a positive, encouraging way.

You might tell a speaker, "I thought you did these things well, but these areas need improvement, but overall I thought you did very well."

Another key role at Toastmasters meetings is that of Ah Counter. "Um", "Ah," "Ya know" and other filler words make the speaker appear self conscious and under prepared, and they're also distracting for the audience to hear. The Ah counter tallies up each members utterance of these words, and reports back at the end of the meeting. Having this pointed out to you can be very funny at times, but the idea is to help you overcome these annoying speaking habits.

Tony Abbott would fall foul of the Ah Counter for his repeated "Um's, Ah's," and other filler words. As for Julia Gillard, her excessive use of the phrase, "Moving forward" would definitely be brought to her attention. In her election launch speech, she managed to say it 24 times. Nice work, Prime Minister.

The Australian Greens somewhat ominously aspire to be the third force in Australian politics, and appear to be well on their way to achieving this ambition. Maybe it's because of my antipathy towards the Greens, but with all due respect, I don't think that Bob Brown is particularly engaging to listen to. He's not given to using overly flowery language, and his droning monotone puts me off. A Toastmasters evaluator would suggest to him that he improves his vocal variety. Oh, for the days of Menzies, Hawke, Killen, or even Gough Whitlam. They knew how to work a crowd.

1 comment:

Glen O'Brien said...

These are interesting observations Ross. We could definitely do with a 'Ah' counter in preaching classes. The days of the great political orator do seem to be behind us these days, more's the pity. I know what you means about Bob Brown's monotone but I can't help liking the guy. Whatever one may think of his policies he seems to be a basically honest straight talking kind of guy. Maybe I'm just naive.