Public Speaking University (cover shot)
Public Speaking University (cover shot) (Photo credit: justinplambert)

We have just finished the Budget Debate in the Jamaican Parliament with the predictably, overly long speeches. Later this year, we’ll once again have the political party conferences and the leaders will again deliver speeches that are way too long. I just don’t get it.

The observation that long speeches, in 2012, are a bad idea seems so self-evident it is almost ridiculous to be making it. Almost, but not quite, since you, the politicians, haven’t got the memo yet.

You still seem to harbour delusions that time has stood still since the 1970s when the only broadcast media outlets were JBC and RJR, and Michael Manley was fascinating Jamaicans with his hours of oratory.

IMAGELIBRARY/576 Persistent URL: archives.lse....
IMAGELIBRARY/576 Persistent URL: archives.lse.ac.uk/dserve.exe?dsqServer=lib-4.lse.ac.uk&a… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not only are today’s politicians no Michael Manley, even Manley would have had a problem holding people’s interest with three- and four-hour speeches today. If he were here  and giving speeches,  I would give him the same advice.

At any given time we all have a million things to do, different media to check and tons of information coming at us. Jamaicans are paying as much attention (probably more attention) to the NBA play-offs,  President Obama’s prospects for re-election, the latest music videos and the Diamond League, as to the ramblings in Gordon House.

Yes, ramblings, I use that word unapologetically. Who has time to listen to self-indulgent ramblings for two or three hours? It’s much more efficient to just check the papers the next day, or the newscasts for the highlights. So, we, the members of the public, really don’t have a problem. We can just turn off the live presentations. And many of us do. So what’s the problem?

Well, I confess to some amount of curiosity. What is the purpose of the speeches? Help me here. Don’t you want people to actually, I dunno, listen to you? While you’re talking? Are you really happy talking to yourself, your fans and the civil servants forced to attend Parliament? Or the green and orange die-hard fans in the National Arena?  I kinda thought the idea was to reach a broader audience. Silly me.

I’m going to go ahead and make these suggestions anyway.

1. Have real speech writers  help with the speech. AND LISTEN TO THEM!!!! Speech writing is actually work, you know. It’s a real job. I’ve heard some of your half-baked presentations by politicians who pride themselves on writing their own speeches. Often, they suck. A professionally written speech ensures structure and flow which will make it easier for people to follow. While I’m listening  (I have to, because of my job) I can just visualize the red ink pen or delete button which need to be used much more extensively.

"It's always interesting to see how invol...
“It’s always interesting to see how involved the President is with editing his speeches. A few hours before his first nationally televised address to the nation, the President works on edits with aides Carol Browner, David Axelrod, and Jon Favreau in the Outer Oval Office.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) License on Flickr (2011-01-12): United States Government Work Flickr tags: WASHINGTON, DC, USA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Aim for an hour long speech. Hey, I’d actually suggest half an hour, but I’m sure you think that’s impossible. I would refer you to Barack Obama’s speeches, usually way less than an hour. And he is a hell of a lot better at speaking than anyone we have here.

English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral...
English: Barack Obama delivering his electoral victory speech on Election Night ´08, in Grant Park, Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Say after me. LONGER IS NOT BETTER.

3. Fifteen minutes of thanking and greeting people is ridiculous. Why should we have to sit and listen to you thank everybody who has supported you in your political career? Take them to lunch instead.

4. Recognise that many of you are simply not interesting speakers, hence, shorter is definitely better. This is where it would be really good to have around you people who tell you the truth about yourselves. Dump the sycophants.

5. Realize that attention spans have gotten shorter. By the time you get to the meat of the speech, you’ve already turned off a lot of people. Forget the young people. Do you think the Twitter generation is hanging around for half an hour for you to really get started? And then for another hour or two? Why on earth would you want to turn off people like that?

6. The longer your speech, the less of it will be captured in subsequent news reports. Most people get their news from TV and radio. Why have such a long speech that most of it gets dumped?

NB Many of these speeches are carried by commercial broadcast media which have to forego regular programming to do so. The abuse of the availability of free airtime with these long-winded speeches may inevitably lead to fewer entities carrying them at all. Then you  really will be talking to yourselves.

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