I’ve persuaded American writer and presentation trainer John Bowe, to come over to the UK from New York. He’s going to deliver a masterclass on public speaking at a conference I’m organising in London in the autumn.
John is the author of the book, I Have Something To Say, which describes his conversion from hard-boiled journalist to tireless public speaking evangelist.
This conference I’m planning has been six years in the making. Since 2009, I have been organising conferences for professional speechwriters from around the world. The most recent one was hosted in Brasenose College, Oxford. We got 96 delegates.
The formula is speechwriters talk to speechwriters about speechwriting. It may seem a bit weird, but it works. We are moved by each others triumphs and disasters, we share linguistic tools and get ideas on how to be funny.
When we get outstanding presentations, I always think, this speech deserves a wider audience or the speaker should be speaking for a living. But then I realise, nobody outside our clan is interested in our subject. It’s too niche.
I spend so much time around speechwriters, I’m often shocked when I realise that most people think it’s disgusting that, what they might call ‘spin doctors’, exist at all.
Schools aren’t much interested, because they know that parents won’t be impressed if their children come home and say they want to be writers.
And what of those people who say, leaders should write their own speeches?
This fallacy is based on the fact that everyone learns to write at school. They don’t. They learn to write for teachers, university professors and examiners who are paid to read their stuff.
The job of professional writers is to get and keep the attention of people who are not at all minded to read or listen.
But they are missing a point.
The point is that the original grammar school education did train all pupils to be writers. Anyone who was anyone in the Renaissance had a linguistic education. They were taught to write and speak well.
Now maths and science take precedence over creative writing and learning foreign languages.
Education has to train people to get a job, they all say.
But there’s a big difference between giving a person technical skills to earn a living and training a person to express their ideas and think for themselves.
I live in an area where we’re surrounded by rehab centres. Over the years I’ve got to know about 12-step meetings. You see small crowds leaving church halls and library rooms, and you know a ‘meeting’ has been going on.
I’ve studied these meetings. I’d say that addiction is everywhere, causing mental health problems, impoverishing people, wrecking families.
It’s an oblique take, but I have been surprised how much of addiction recovery involves learning to speak in public.
In his talks to students, John Bowe says: “If you can’t explain yourself, in general, you will be depressed and unsuccessful; if you can, you’ve got a shot.”
John’s book widens the scope of the problem. He says that the reason our societies are so divided is because we’ve forgotten how to talk to each other.
In previous eras, we gave young people ‘speech training’, but that’s not happening any longer.
For the past six years, I’ve been trying to organise a conference where we can reach beyond professional speechwriters.
The venue is less expensive that the ones we normally use, and the price of a ticket is significantly less than the standard conferences.
This is because we want young people especially to find out more about these skills.
We live in a society where we are trained to listen to a small cadre of journalists and politicians in the media: what we should be doing is finding our own voice so we can make our own mark on society.
You can sign up to the London Brilliant Communicators’ conference here.