SA politi­cians need re­me­dial classes in pub­lic speak­ing

Cape Argus - - NEWS -

HAT a plea­sure it is to lis­ten to a good pub­lic speaker! I at­tended the an­nual Neder­burg Wine Auc­tion last week and had the plea­sure of hear­ing Amer­i­can au­thor Mike Ve­seth giv­ing the key­note ad­dress.

Ve­seth is a pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal eco­nom­ics and an author­ity on wine mar­ket­ing. He re­cently pub­lished a book called TheWine Wars.

He spoke with­out us­ing any notes (our politi­cians could take lessons) and he was in­for­ma­tive, an­i­mated and very funny.

With­out ever be­ing pon­der­ous or pompous he gave his au­di­ence an in­sight into the his­tory of global wine mar­ket­ing. He cer­tainly gave us food for thought and opened our eyes to some of the prob­lems and pit­falls of mar­ket­ing South African prod­ucts on the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

After­wards I couldn’t help won­der­ing about the gen­eral stan­dard of our own pub­lic speak­ers. Good­ness knows, we have more than enough of them. I some­times think all our pub­lic hol­i­days are just an ex­cuse for politi­cians to stand up and pro­duce hot air.

And their speeches seem to come in two cat­e­gories – ei­ther they bel­low slo­gans and sing ag­gres­sive songs, for which they later apol­o­gise, or they stand read­ing long, waffly speeches pre­pared by some­body else and writ­ten in a lan­guage that is not their own.

If they do hap­pen to say any­thing mean­ing­ful, they re­tract it the next day and claim the press quoted it out of con­text.

Can you re­mem­ber the con­tents of a sin­gle South African politi­cian’s speech in the past year?

WMe nei­ther. Isn’t it time our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem placed more em­pha­sis on the im­por­tance of pub­lic speak­ing? Al­most ev­ery de­ci­sion that af­fects our lives is the re­sult of a dis­cus­sion. And the win­ner in any dis­cus­sion is the per­son who speaks most con­vinc­ingly.

Our par­lia­men­tary sys­tem is all about pub­lic speak­ing. Board meet­ings de­cide the di­rec­tion in which com­pa­nies move.

Words drive the world. I heard a For­mula One word driver last Satur­day and I couldn’t help com­par­ing him to our own di­lap­i­dated jalopy jock­eys. Pa­thetic. The old rule about good pub­lic speak­ing is quite sim­ple: Have some­thing to say. Get up and say it, then shut up and sit down.

In far too many cases speak­ers have noth­ing to say, but they get up and say it any­way – at great length – and are then very re­luc­tant to sit down or shut up. A woman went into a cinema and found her­self seated be­hind a man with a large dog perched in the seat next to him.

She couldn’t help notic­ing the dog’s re­sponse to the movie. It seemed to re­act to ev­ery scene in the story.

When there was a funny part the dog grinned and wagged its tail. When there was a sad part the dog hung its head mis­er­ably. When the vil­lain threat­ened the hero the dog growled softly. At the end the dog gave a cou­ple of ap­pre­cia­tive lit­tle barks and stood up and stretched, ready to leave.

Af­ter the show the woman ap­proached the dog’s owner out­side.

“I couldn’t help notic­ing your dog’s re­ac­tion to the film,” she said. “It was amaz­ing. He re­ally seemed to en­joy it.”

“Yes,” said the dog’s owner. “I must say I was rather amazed at his re­ac­tion too.

“He ab­so­lutely hated the book.”

ONLY WORDS Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in ac­tion

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