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Alan Barker
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Thanks to Alex Chalk for pointing me towards Michael Clarke's superb eulogy for Phillip Hughes. You can watch it and read the transcript by clicking on the image (my screenshot taken from the BBC website). Clarke demonstrates perfectly how a good eulogy must be planned to the last stroke. When emotion is as raw and unbearable as it is here, every rhetorical technique is essential. This eulogy ticks every single box. You can read the transcript and tick off the rhetorical questions, the antithesis, the three-part lists. This eulogy works under the surface as well as on it. The purpose... Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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The Elements of Eloquence Mark Forsyth Icon Books, 2013 ISBN 978 184831621 8 £12.99 Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence differs from his previous bestsellers in two respects. First, it’s 50 pages shorter than either The Etymologicon or The Horologicon, which works to its advantage. Secondly, it does more than catalogue a set of obscure linguistic facts entertainingly. This book might actually be useful. The title is something of a misnomer. Forsyth himself admits that the figures of speech aren’t really the core components of eloquence, but only “one tiny, tiny aspect of rhetoric.” The descriptive metaphor, historically, has been... Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Thanks to Mark W for an interesting question. Mark had been reading this post about opportunity-led thinking. He asks: I found your article where you reference Robert Fritz's work, notably his book CREATING, and was wondering how your work relates to his. You talk about 'opportunity-led thinking', and I'm seeking to understand how this interfaces with creating and creativity. Can you please clarify? How does it help a person create? Simple answer: the difference between creating and creativity is the difference between a process and a set of techniques. How does opportunity-led thinking help a person create? By developing our... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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This is a joint post by me (in handsome Georgia) and Imogen Barker (in elegant Trebuchet). Amsterdam in autumn. A lone heron keeps watch over the Herengracht from a car roof. At the Rijksmuseum, a soprano sax sends Bach skirling up into the arches. And behind the welcoming doors of de Burcht, speechwriters from 11 countries meet to discuss their craft. The ESN conference is now firmly established as the go-to European speechwriting event. And it has always welcomed delegates from other continents. This year, 70 of the brightest and best met to inspire and be inspired. As usual, the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Two acceptance speeches; two ways of responding to the occasion. On 8 December, 1962, John Steinbeck spoke to receive his Nobel Prize. (Thanks to Jens Kjeldsen for pointing me towards it.) Read the text here. On 11 June, 2014, actor Kerry Washington spoke to receive the Women in Film Lucy Award for Excellence in Television. (Thanks to Denise Graveline for her astute analysis.) Read the transcript here. Compare, as they say, and contrast. Both speakers were nervous about speaking. "I wrote the damned speech at least 20 times,” Steinbeck wrote. “I, being a foreigner in Sweden, tried to make it... Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Riveted: The Science of Why Jokes Make Us Laugh, Movies Make Us Cry, and Religion Makes Us Feel One With the Universe Jim Davies Palgrave Macmillan, 2014 ISBN: 9781137279019 £14.44 (Amazon) Kindle edition £9.94 (Amazon) Gazing at a beautiful view from a log cabin; hearing a ghost story; finding yourself glued to pictures of a pile-up on the motorway; reciting the Lord’s Prayer... Are these experiences in any way alike? According to Jim Davies, they are. “Strange as it may seem, compelling things share many similarities.” In this book, Davies claims to do “something that has never been done before”:... Continue reading
Posted Oct 10, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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This is a webinar I delivered for the student community of ICAEW. It focuses on sentence construction and sequencing. Towards the end, I also answer a number of questions that the audience posted to us during the webinar. The four parts of the webinar cover: what grammar is and why it matters; sentences: what they are, how they work and the three different types of sentence; how to write better sentences; and some of the most frequently asked questions about grammar. Click on the image to access the video. I produced a handout containing answers to questions, together with a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 3, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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This controversy rumbles on. The basic rule is: Less of amount; fewer of number. (We’ll talk about rules in a moment.) Use fewer when referring to anything that you can count. These days, people buy fewer newspapers. We have fewer women studying science than we would like. Use less when you’re referring to something that can’t be counted or doesn’t have a plural (for example: air, time, traffic, music). At the end of the week I always seem to have less money. Now that I’m singing regularly in a choir, I listen to less music on the radio. We also... Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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In two earlier posts, I discussed blame and resistance. Both are natural and predictable responses to problems that we place in our Circle of Concern: the place where we put the problems life throws at us, and which we feel powerless to tackle. Call them Presented Problems. We usually express a Presented Problem as a statement of what’s wrong. There’s a perceived gap between what is and what should be. Inside the Circle of Concern is our Circle of Influence. Into that circle we place the problems we feel we can deal with. Being more effective, according to Stephen Covey,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Before you read on, please do this. Count the number of pieces of clothing you put on this morning (pairs count as one), and write the number down. Now, do a multiplication sum. For example, for seven pieces of clothing, calculate: 7x6x5x4x3x2x1. Did you do what I asked? I’ll bet you didn’t. My request interfered with your desire to read this article; and you resisted. In psychological terms, I tried to wrench you out of procedure. And probably failed. Procedural memory and why it’s good for us Procedural memories underlie the routines that make us effective. By repeating the same... Continue reading
Posted Aug 8, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Closing the Mind Gap Ted Cadsby BPS Books, 2014 ISBN 978 1 927483 78 7 £18.00 China Miéville sets one of his novels, The City & the City, in two cities occupying the same physical space. Citizens of each city, partly through choice and partly through political coercion, have trained themselves to ‘unsee’ the other city: to recognize the buildings and inhabitants of the other city without seeing them. Crossing the cognitive divide, even by accident, is regarded as ‘breaching’ – a terrible crime invoking unspeakable punishments. Ted Cadsby, in his ambitious and enjoyable new book, similarly invokes two coterminous... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Why do the signals keep failing between London and Reading? As we sit in the Dead Zone (somewhere around Slough), for the fourth or fifth time in so many months, I wonder: Why? Why? It’s can’t be a simple technical problem; if it were, they would solve it. (‘They?’) Perhaps it’s a complex technical problem. Of course, I have no idea of the answer. But somewhere in my head, as helplessness turns to rage, I can’t help feeling that the real problem is that someone, somewhere, is to blame. When we feel powerless to solve a problem, we tend to... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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image: awsum-wallpapers In this post, I offered ten top tips for writing emails. And in this one, I put email into a broader context. Now I want to look at why email is so easily misuderstood, and how we might put things right. Studies have shown that we're likely to misinterpret almost half the emails we receive. According to Management Today, email provider GMX has found that 30% of us are regularly, and unintentionally, offended by emails at work. One reason is the sheer volume of email we have to deal with. More than a quarter of your day at... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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I’ve been monitoring the growth of ‘so’ for a few months now. You know the one I mean: the ‘so’ that has leapt from being a conjunction to stand irritatingly at the start of our sentences. ‘So’: the new ‘um’. But an epiphany occurred the other day. We were a family group of ten, enjoying a significant birthday in one of the best restaurants in the land. The conversation was intelligent, relaxed and varied. Three twenty-somethings were ‘so’-ing predictably; but only when my sister-in-law’s brother – a GP, like me in his middle-aged prime – started to ‘so’ did I... Continue reading
Posted Jun 19, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Download Speechwriting for diplomacy brochure In the age of the soundbite and the tweet, formal speeches remain one of the key tools in the diplomatic bag. And with good reason: speeches weld audiences into communities. They establish policy positions, influence perceptions and help to build consensus in a way that no other form of communication can. The impact of a powerful speech can endure for years. Speechwriting is often seen as a ‘dark art’. Why do some speeches succeed and others fall flat? How to avoid dull platitudes? How to say something meaningful and memorable? Diplomats come to speechwriting by... Continue reading
Posted May 1, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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Brian Jenner has done it again. The 8th UK Speechwriters’ conference, held last week in the splendid surroundings of Trinity, Oxford, proved once more that, although speechwriters may prefer influence to credit, they do enjoy coming out into the light and seeking out their own kind. Celia Delaney, our Chair and MC, established an atmosphere of fun and camaraderie within seconds. She opened with a gag and closed with a song. Unaccompanied. Which is more than I would dare. Two innovations caught my attention this year. The first was an open mike session, conjured through urgent necessity, which gave two... Continue reading
Posted Apr 5, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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First, there was blame. Then came resistance. When we exercise choice, we take responsibility. These are three levels of problem ownership. There is a fourth. A number of clients have been asking me recently about 'flow'. What is it, and how do we get into it? Think about an occasion when you were completely absorbed in doing something. Maybe you lost all awareness of what was happening around you. Maybe you lost track of time. Interestingly, you probably also lost any sense of yourself. (It's happening to me now. I can, as HAL said in 2001, feel it.) That's flow.... Continue reading
Posted Jan 31, 2014 at Distributed Intelligence
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This post is based on material from my new book, How to Write an Essay. Click on the book cover to download your free copy. Just as your essay's introduction should capture your reader’s attention and make them want to read on, your conclusion should make the reader feel satisfyingly that they’ve arrived. The conclusion should say: look, everything here makes sense. Everything fits together. And: everything here points to a new thought: one you, the reader, may not have thought before. That new thought needn’t be earth-shattering or radical; but it should be a valuable answer to the question... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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The Roar of the Lion: the untold story of Churchill's World War II speeches Richard Toye Oxford, 2013 ISBN 978 0 19 964252 6 £25.00 20 August 1940. Winston Churchill visits No.11 Group Fighter Command with his military secretary, General Hastings Ismay. Throughout the afternoon, the RAF is battling the waves of German fighters crossing the Channel. At one point, every squadron has taken to the air, with no reserves remaining. According to Ismay: I felt sick with fear. As the evening closed in the fighting died down, and we left by car for Chequers. Churchill’s first words to me... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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And so to the main business of the European Speechwriter Network conference, on Friday 20 September. (Notes on the pre-conference proceedings are here.) Here are my selected highlights. Denise Graveline, our capable Chair, set the tone. (Check out Denise's website, doing its bit to redress the gender imbalance that has damaged the world of public speaking for - how long?) English – the conference language on this occasion – is not one language but many. (Cue customary jokes about American and English.) When we say “I’m speaking your language,” we don’t just mean “I’m speaking your native language,” but “I... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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The French apparently have a favoured descriptor for the European project: la construction. The metaphor seemed apt last Thursday evening, as the European Speechwriter Network opened its conference in the Residence Palace in Brussels, currently being renovated for use by the European Council. (Estimated completion date: last year...) Having negotiated the tarpaulins, scaffolding and concrete heaps, we settled down to a searching conversation about the role of language in fostering Europe’s future, with a man who is helping to create both. As an opening session, this set the bar high. Luuk van Middelaar is a political philosopher impatient with scholarly... Continue reading
Posted Sep 22, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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Photo by mnadi A very good blogpost by Athene Donald set me thinking the other day, about writing policy papers, position papers, committee papers, and other kinds of persuasive document. She was responding to this article by Stian Westlake on the Guardian Political Science blog. Both pieces concentrate on matters stylistic. Athene Donald quotes three key suggestions from Westlake’s piece. Neither glibness nor prolixity make for useful advice. (I think it should be ‘makes’ – but let that pass.) Clarity, brevity and a sense of narrative are all important parts of good advice. “It takes an eagle eye,” comments Professor... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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This post is based on material from my new book, How to Write an Essay. Click on the book cover to download your free copy. This is the first in a projected series of posts designed to help students produce better essays. People seem to find introductions really hard to do. One of the reasons may be that you think you have to write it first. But you don't. Leave the introduction (and the conclusion, but we'll do that another time) until you've finished the body of the essay. You know that the introduction has to be good, don't you?... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson Edited by Harry Mount Bloomsbury 2013 ISBN 978 1408 1835 26 £9.99 On my beside table, I currently have a copy of Mark Forsyth’s The Etymologicon. It’s one of a fast-proliferating breed of book: designed to look more like books than books, with extra thick pages, big type and textured covers. Sort of hyper-real books.Not-quite books. Waterstone’s counter yesterday was awash with them. Boris Johnson reminds me of this kind of book. He’s a not-quite politician. When he was appointed shadow Arts Minister in May 2004, his response was: "look the point is...er,... Continue reading
Posted Aug 30, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence
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Rhetoric: A Very Short Introduction Richard Toye Oxford, 2013 £7.99 ISBN 978 0 19 965136 8 At the heart of Richard Toye’s excellent new book is “the problem of meaning and intention.” Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. How can speakers be confident that the audience will be persuaded? (Think of Blair at the Women’s Institute conference in 2000.) Can we decide what, exactly, a speaker means? “This is what seems to fascinate us,” he writes, “although pinning it down is infuriatingly difficult.” Difficult, partly, because we can’t argue without using rhetoric. When Kennedy famously said: “Ask not what your... Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2013 at Distributed Intelligence