Rob Cottingham

30 Mar 2014

Why I’d make a lousy A&R guy: In pop music, “Let’s Do It Right Now (Tomorrow Doesn’t Matter)” charts, not “Whoa! I Think We’re Moving a Little Quickly. Let’s Slow Down, Take a Few Hours and Think Through the Implications. Can I Get You Some Mint Tea?”

The key to understanding me

Everyone has a different force lending direction to their lives. For some, a powerful sense of justice. For others, a yearning for deep personal connection.

Looking back on my movements over the past few hours, it’s hard not to conclude that the driving force in my life is a need to be near a functioning power outlet.

I’d like to thank Demosthenes…

After last night’s Oscar ceremony, Nancy Duarte has a few suggestions for any public speaker hoping to outdo Academy Award-winning artists (which is a surprisingly low bar, although there were a few standouts): personal is powerful; plan ahead; strike the right note and watch the clock. Continue reading

Mindful Technology Day, anyone?

Cave people with child. Man says: Sure, me think fire super cool. But me worry what it do to our brains.

A source request from today’s “Help a Reporter Out“:

In honor of March 7th’s National Unplugging Day, I am looking for the best ways for a family to unplug and also to talk to a therapist/ psychologist as to why it is so vital to a child’s development and for the family dynamic to go tech free as often as possible. Thanks in advance!

I’m not sure whether the reporter is pushing an agenda, or just takes it as read that Technology Hurt Family. Technology Bad. But geez.

By the way: which tech? How far back do we need to go before technology isn’t evil any more? Is the cut-off point the transistor, the vacuum tube, electricity, the printed word, fire…?

…Or is the question less technology itself, and more how we use it? That’s a more complex story, and doesn’t lend itself to short, sexy ledes. But I’d be happy to support a day devoted to using networked tech to strengthen our relationships. Mindful Technology Day, anyone?

Didn’t like the State of the Union? Make your own!

More and more interconnected world, pass the new economy work for them. And found a way that benefits all of its people. Further extending it as due to the several classes, but it is noteworthy that the rights, but the foundation for such a movement as the necessity of fighting the war; or a governor behaves improperly or unwisely, the protection and forbearance among capitalists, farmers, and enables them to be unconstitutional, often inconsistent with power to enter into contracts for the way in which it is possible.
Is supported by a steady decline in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores. Today the brave people of Afghanistan are showing that resolve. Here at home while protecting our country. Enabling a million children learning what they were building a 21st century, protecting California’s classrooms by this country to love and guidance.

As created by the State of the Union Machine (courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation).

Looking at it on the page, it’s gibberish. But try reading it aloud, in sonorous, weighty tones. Drop your voice almost to a hoarse whisper a few times.

And then roll your own: the SOTU machine lets you weight different presidents to get more or less of the verbiage from their speeches.

It’s a bit of fun, but there really is a more serious side to this. A SOTU speech is damn difficult.

I’ve had a taste of that difficulty myself, having written several throne and budget speeches. None got anything like the kind of audience and scrutiny Obama’s got, but the challenges are similar.

You need to capture the sense of occasion, speak to the public as well as the pundits and pols, mollify (if not actually please) a staggering range of stakeholders, and maybe even advance your own agenda… all while sticking to a consistent theme.

The risk of winding up with a grocery list is high (“Trout subsidies? What the hell are trout subsidies? And why do I have to talk about them in a speech about energy independence?”), as is the possibility of a ponderous, gassy collection of vague generalities.

And as you go through draft after draft, sleep-deprived night after sleep-deprived night, the danger of creating something that reads like it came from a verbal Moulinex increases exponentially.

So while the SOTU Machine is a fun toy, maybe it’s also a warning to speechwriters: never let go of the central thread.

Filed under: Craft, Speechwriting

You can run (on at the mouth), but you can’t hide

More than 50 lies, half-truths, and instances of disingenuous spin. Rob Ford’s speech lasted 16 minutes, therefore Rob Ford took liberties with reality, on average, three times per minute. And that was in a speech where nobody asked him about drugs, alcohol, or criminal behaviour.

via Torontoist

One crucial thing speechwriters need to remember: the days of the one-way speech from the podium are over. And even if you’re betting that mainstream media are stretched too thin to check what you’re saying, there may well be a blogger in the audience with the resources to follow through.

In this case, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s speech gets a thorough point-by-point refutation (not just a rebuttal) from two bloggers at Torontoist. If you needed a reminder to avoid the temptation to fudge the truth for the sake of a good line, here it is.

Filed under: Speaking, Speechwriting

Photo of an iPhone reading 'Me Me Me'

We’re a bunch of self-absorbed jerks, and it’s the Internet’s fault

I’m on the #22 Knight, heading downtown with a busload of fellow commuters. Nearly all of us have our heads bent down, staring and tapping away at our various mobile devices.

The isolation is striking, the few times I look up to notice it. This will probably be the largest crowd I spend this much time in today, and yet we’re utterly alone, once you discount the millions of people those devices connect us to.

It wasn’t always like this. Back when I was a university student, facing a daily commute of well over an hour, the bus was much more of a social venue. You’d strike up a conversation with whoever was sitting or standing next to you. Share photos from your vacations. Discuss, conceive and — on longer routes — raise children.

In the winter, there’d always be some resourceful scamp who would flood the aisle with a few inches of water, which (this being Ottawa) froze solid in seconds, and an impromptu skating party would ensue. In the summer, the bus would fill with the mouth-watering haze of passengers’ hibachis and kettle BBQs grilling burgers and hot dogs. Forgot to bring one? No problem — people always shared.

Some bus routes became known for their communities’ idiosyncrasies. The 25 Express was a philosophers’ cafe on wheels, with a series of guest lecturers paid through passenger donations. The 85 had a great street hockey game (and, rumor had it, was regularly scouted by savvy NHL teams).

But then came the Walkman, and then cell phones, and finally the coup de grace: iPhones and their ilk. Today most people can’t even remember a time when buses were abuzz with conversation, when elevators were the place to see and be seen, and when doctors’ waiting rooms doubled as ersatz discotheques. Projecting their Internet-era toxic isolation onto their own memories, they figure people just spent their time with their noses buried in newspapers, books or magazines. But I remember. I remember.

(I’d have more to say about this, but the jackass next to me keeps pestering me, asking what I’m writing. Some people.)