All posts by Rob Cottingham

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

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

How many ways can I say I’m sorry?

The New York Times has strung together lines from notable apology speeches into one big, remorseful Frankenpentance.

Tragically missing, though, is anything from Rob Ford’s rambling, defensive apology from last November. Where’s “I know I have let you down and I can’t do anything else but apologize and apologize”? Or “I was elected to do a job and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue doing” – which would have fit perfectly right after Nixon’s “I don’t believe that I ought to quit, because I am not a quitter”?

I’d say the Times owes us an apology.

Seeking Redemption, Sometimes With a Familiar Ring – NYTimes.com

 

Filed under: Uncategorized Tagged: apology, politics, rob ford

Nancy Duarte’s Resonate is free on iBooks

iTunes - Books - Resonate by Nancy Duarte

This is worth a heartfelt OMG: Nancy Duarte’s Resonate is now available as a free download from iBooks. You need an iPad or a Mac to use this version, but it has all sorts of interactive goodness and bonus material, including lots of video.

I’ve gone on about Resonate at length before, but to recap: if you write or deliver speeches and presentations, it’s absolutely invaluable. (And if you don’t have an iPad or Mac, you can always buy it minus the supplementary content.)

Go get it!

Resonate by Nancy Duarte

Filed under: Presentation Design, Speechwriting Tagged: books

Whatever the opposite of “Presentation Zen” is

It always warms my heart a little when separate spheres of my life bump into each other. And my webcomic-reading, cartoon-drawing sphere just nudged my public-speaking sphere in the latest installment of John Allison’s webcomic Bad Machinery.

Bad Machinery - March 12, 2013

This guy (the dad of one of Bad Machinery‘s main characters, a circle of kids who solve mysteries) has to con a room full of people into believing a cock-and-bull story (rather than the truth, which is that his son helped to save the city from a walnut-shaped hope-eating monster). His allies: a 287-slide PowerPoint deck and a thermostat.

The sad truth, of course, is that he isn’t the first to deploy this strategy. Dense, impenetrable thickets of text; charts and graphs whose meaning seems to reverse if you so much as shift in your chair – these are proven methods of failing to communicate while appearing to communicate.

A stifling, unventilated room… well, that’s just icing on the cake. (Melted icing, if it’s been in that room for any time at all.)

I’ve sat through presentations where it dawned on me at the 10-minute mark that the speaker was trying to snow me. And then sometimes, at the 20-minute mark, I’d realize they were also fooling themselves. Bad slides can help provide cover for sloppy, muddled or faulty thinking – from the speaker as well as the audience.

via Bad Machinery – March 12, 2013.

Filed under: Presentation Design

Why Jon Favreau looked so tired the morning of Sept. 10, 2009

President Obama reviews a speech with Jon Favreau

President Barack Obama and Jon Favreau, head speechwriter, edit a speech on health care in the Oval Office, Sept. 9, 2009, in preparation for the president’s address to a joint session of Congress. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza – via Flickr)

Presidential communications are seamless, hermetic; they betray no sign they were ever anything other than fully polished.

Usually.

But now and then, we get a glimpse like this, and we get a hint of the furious activity going on just below the surface: the endless cycles of revision and comment that ultimately turn out the glowing words scrolling up a teleprompter screen. In this case, it looks like a long night is in the cards for Jon Favreau.

Maybe it won’t be that bad. There have been times when I would have killed to have a client whose handwriting was as meticulous as Obama’s looks in this photo. If his directions are as clear as his penmanship, Mr. Favreau’s an even luckier man than I’d thought.

Filed under: Speechwriting Tagged: jon favreau, obama

Catch Colin Moorhouse’s speechwriting workshop – in person or online

I’ve known Colin Moorhouse for several years now, mostly as a disembodied (phone, social media and email) presence — but a thoughtful, experienced and generous one.

Possibly the leading speechwriting trainer out there (with two decades under his belt!), he has a lot of insight and knowledge to share. And he’s done just that for countless students through his intensive annual two-day workshop at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University.

You can also take Colin’s course online, running six weeks but with the same hands-on practical assignments, individual attention and focus on the business as well as the craft of speechwriting.

Both workshops start in March, but with Colin’s reputation, I’d sign up now. The on-site workshop takes place all day Friday March 1 and March 8 at SFU’s downtown campus. And the online course begins on March 15, with an early-bird discount available now.

Filed under: Speechwriting, Vendors and Products Tagged: Colin Moorhouse, course, sfu, teaching, training, vancouver, workshop