Archive for June, 2011

Comment for today.

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

The ties binding Canadians to England’s royals,

Are handcuffs of ignorance and our blood boils.

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The speech and how to tame it.

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Why are people afraid of addressing an audience?  The most common answer to that is that they lack confidence.  In teaching courses in public speaking, we have seen the most timid person become a tiger on the platform.  All it requires is the time to show the individual what they can accomplish.

Mind you, the basics can be learned but it is application and practice that creates the really great speakers.  We learned how far practice can take a person from our late friend Charles Templeton.  Chuck got his early start from listening to the evangelists who came to Toronto when he was young.  He used to practice their styles in front of a mirror.  He had learned how they used words and how they used their bodies for emphasis   He would admit with a laugh that he really started out to be a cartoonist but found that it was much easier just to talk.  That confidence in speaking never left him, even after he quit the church, tried politics and found his niche in the media.

But confidence can be deceiving.  In making a brief presentation to city council a couple weeks ago, we were overconfident and did not do well.  People who watched on television said that it was fine but we knew we lost our place in our notes a couple times and we could have done better if we had practiced it a few times.

But we really prefer to write speeches than deliver them.  We learned very early in our career that we had a knack for being able to hear the person say the words in our mind as we wrote them.  It is also the way good dialogue is created when writing for radio and television or producing fiction.

The key to speech writing is to build on audience agreement.  You layer agreements through the speech, building acceptance of what the person is telling the audience. You structure the sentences to allow the audience to react to the speech at planned intervals.  You create applause points for example to enable the audience to react.

A person for whom we wrote a speech recently tried to change some of the sentence structure.  He was correct in his grammar but it was wrong for the speech.  We convinced him to use our wording.  He was impressed when the audience proved the point by feeling free to applaud at what he thought was the wrong way to end some sentences.

Good writing is not always a good speech.  Speech writers research the audience and then research the topic.  They know how the words are understood.  There are many examples of that.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream and he used heavy repetition to drive home his point in a brilliant speech that was heard around the world.  Abraham Lincoln told the audience at Gettysburg that few would remember his words that day.  Millions of American school children know he was wrong.  Marc Anthony told the Roman mob that he came to bury Caesar, not to praise him.  He lied.  He turned the mob.

A good speech is communication at its most basic.  It identifies with the audience.  It uses words that are easy for the audience to understand.  It employs emotion.  It challenges.  It motivates.  It informs.  It paints pictures.  It asks for commitment.  It is memorable.  It is visceral.  It shows leadership.  And you thought it was just another speech.

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Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Comment for today.

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

The monarchists are hyping up the coming royal visit,

To treat them as visiting movie stars isn’t smart, is it?

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How to learn to love the microphone.

Monday, June 27th, 2011

The microphone is your friend.  It can help you communicate with large groups.  No matter how big your voice, there are audiences that are bigger than your voice alone can handle.  If you want to be a communicator, you have to learn to use the microphone.

The only problem is that most microphones you encounter in banquet halls, church halls, schools, community centres and other such venues are absolute crap. Even if the sound system is of the correct quality and design for the room and installed by an acoustical expert (rarely, if ever), that was two years ago and since then people have been intent on doing severe damage to the system.  They have no idea of the trouble they cause when they hit the microphone, run wheels over cables, play with the amplifier dials, randomly flick switches on and off and drop delicate speakers.  All you can do most of the time is hope the damn system lasts long enough for you to finish communicating what you need to say to the audience.

There is one solution that is practiced by professional communicators.  A professional comes early and checks out the system.  The professional asks that someone be there who knows how the system works.  A paid professional insists that someone be there to manage the system when in use.  Good luck with that.

If checking ahead is impossible, try to watch from the back of the room while someone uses the sound system.    If, for example, you hear popping, screeching, breathing and the voice tends to boom, the speaker is probably too close to the microphone.  That is a common error and is easily corrected by stepping back from the microphone and speaking over it, not directly into it.  And do not forget that the mouth is the most visible part of facial expression.  Do not let the microphone hide it.

And, for goodness sake, do not touch the microphone.  Only professionals use hand microphones.  Unless you are going to spend many, many hours practicing holding it properly, keep your paws off it.  You need both hands for your notes or full speech.  You need your hands for emphasis.

(If it is one of those cheap directional microphones—they are small and have a flat grill face—try talking directly into it from at least eight to ten inches away.)

The macho speaker who listens to previous speakers and claims they do not need that microphone is kidding nobody.  If they keep it up, they will do irreparable harm to their voice, lose all inflection and tone of voice for emphasis and annoy people in the front rows because of shouting at them.  It is a lose, lose, lose situation.

If you know it is a bad microphone, it is not the best course to see how fast you can talk and get out of there.  Many of these bad microphones—positioned properly—will do the job if you speak clearly and distinctly and enunciate every word.

It is critical that you only speak when you are looking at the oldest person (who is a little deaf) in the back row.  If you do not hold this person’s attention, you might as well cut your talk short.  You are not communicating.

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Comment for today.

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

There are a few months until the October election,

Voters have time to consider their party selection.

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The view from the cat bird seat.

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

We sit in the cat bird seat.  It is a million dollar view.  From this desk, the view is to the hills on the south.  Highway 400 rises to the west and Yonge Street is on the east.  Both run south from Babel to Toronto.  Directly in front, looking over the computer screen, there is a view of the worst of engineers’ planning.  It is the intersection of Bradford, Essa, Lakeshore and Tiffin.  It is likely it competes with Highway 400 to contribute the most in accidents for the area.

Looking down at an accident the other day, there was a sadness that stemmed from the sure knowledge that most of the accidents at that intersection are caused by bad planning.  The obligatory police cars, fire vehicles and EMS ambulance, all with flashing lights tell you someone is hurt—hopefully not too seriously.

There is no doubt that the planners tried very hard to make the intersection safe.  At one point we honestly thought they were trying out different lane arrangements to try to figure out which was safest.  When they had three lanes coming off Bradford to become one lane on Essa, we knew there would be trouble.  They finally resolved that confusion by having one right-turn lane from Bradford and two through lanes continuing from Bradford to two through lanes on Essa.  The basic problem is that the planners tried to do too much with the intersection design.

The idea is to get some of the downtown traffic off the Lakeshore and on to Bradford for a faster but less picturesque drive downtown.  It gives drivers the choice of a hard-right turn onto the Lakeshore (for a shorter and more interesting drive downtown) and a straight through to a Yield sign onto Bradford, and hence, downtown.

What causes many to stop for that Yield sign is that some planner did not consider the sight line for drivers using that lane of traffic.  Drivers coming off the Lakeshore to go north on Bradford cannot see the traffic coming northbound on Bradford until they get to the Yield sign.  It is not only a bit late for them to yield but the angle (beside and behind you) that you have to check for traffic is a blind spot for many drivers.

That is probably just one of the reasons that Babel drivers get into fender benders in that intersection.  Babel drivers are certainly not among the best in the world but the city planners who designed the intersection might not be world beaters either!

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Friday, June 24th, 2011

All we remember of Harper’s wasteful G20,

Is how he an’ Chief Blair earned our enmity.

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‘And now I am the ruler of the Queen’s Navee.”

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

In Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta HMS Pinafore,’ the First Lord of the Admiralty sings a song explaining how you get to rule the British Navy.  You start, he explains, by being apprenticed to a legal firm and work your way up to being sent by a pocket borough into parliament.  A good example of the pocket borough approach was evidenced the other day when Babel’s Whigs (Provincial Liberals) announced their new candidate for the October election. Their previous choice had told us she would not be running because of health problems.

The venue for the new prospective candidate’s announcement was a busy coffee shop.  At that time of the morning, you could count on the place being better than half full.  Adding six or seven Whigs, the candidate and the Liberal Party’s Ontario campaign chairman and his retainers to the numbers as well as a few of Babel’s news media, it would feel like a good crowd.  The party’s campaign chairman made the announcement.  He told the coffee drinkers how lucky they were to have such a stalwart candidate in Babel.  The incumbent Member of the Provincial Parliament for Babel was also there to say how pleased she was to have such a fine candidate to carry on her tradition.

Now there is a nicety in organized politics, these days, known as a nomination meeting.  Riding associations often call these meetings for the purpose of choosing their candidate.  It was announced that such a meeting will be called sometime next month—when they get around to it.

What was unusual about this coffee cloche is the presence of the provincial campaign chairman.  The campaign chair is chosen by the leader of the party—in this case, the Premier—to manage the party’s campaign across the province.  To be introduced to the riding by this person is a considerable leg up in the process of getting nominated.

If you were a person considering putting your name forward as a potential candidate for the Liberal Party in Babel, what would you think?  Would you want to embarrass the Premier’s campaign guy by making him look silly?  Would you want to earn the ill-will of the incumbent MPP by rejecting her choice of candidate?

And that is life in a pocket borough.

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Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

PM Harper is determined to shape the Senate to his whims,

Without a constitutional assembly, his hope for reform dims.

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The Democracy Papers.

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

This is the ninth of the Democracy Papers written in 2007 in answer to the Ontario referendum that year on electoral reform.  The referendum was defeated but the need for reform continues to rankle.  We believe Canada must have an elected Constitutional Conference.  Electoral reform is just one of the topics to be brought to the gathering.  For this reason, the Democracy Papers are being updated and rerun.

Chapter 9  –  To be a ‘No’ committee is no easy task.

It started with the announcement that the Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform had decided to support ‘mixed-member proportional’ (MMP) voting in Ontario.   Nobody really cared until we found out what that meant.   This generated a flurry of e-mails to other political people in our network to the effect that we should launch a ‘no’ campaign.  Some thought this might be fun, so we started talking seriously about it.

Our first problem was that very few of our potential financial backers knew what we were talking about.   We had to explain the citizens’ assembly.   For a representative group of voters, one from every riding in Ontario, the citizens’ assembly was remarkably apolitical.   It was supposed to examine Ontario’s electoral system and it chose a system that has been causing headaches for New Zealand voters for the past 11 years.   The assembly thought the idea was progressive.   It is based on appointing people to the legislature according to the per cent of popular vote for each political party.

The first problem voters have with that is that there is nothing progressive about appointing 39 out of 129 members of the legislature.   Ontario did that 200 years ago and it led to the Upper Canada Rebellion.   Allowing anyone a seat in the legislature who is not elected by the voters is anathema to those who believe in democracy.   And nobody wants another senate.

But arguing the case was not getting us closer to forming our ‘no’ campaign.

One problem with forming a ‘no’ committee, we were told, was that ‘no’ seemed so negative.   The advice was to make the ‘no’ sound like a ‘yes.’   That gave us food for thought for maybe 30 seconds.   If people think we are saying ‘yes’ then we could by accident make them think we were in favour of what is a really dumb idea.

We were rescued from that dilemma by Elections Ontario.   In its wisdom, this body declared that it would not ask the voters a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question on election day, October 10.   Instead the question will be something like: do you approve of staying with the old-fashioned ‘first-past-the-post’ election method or do you approve of this new mixed-member proportional idea from the citizens’ assembly?   We were going to complain about how the question was worded but the ‘yes’ proponents beat us to the punch by complaining because theirs was not the first option.   We figured that it must be fair if Elections Ontario is being berated by both sides.

But we are a bit concerned about Elections Ontario.   That body has been charged and given a blank cheque to explain the options to the voters of Ontario.   Assuming that, at this stage, maybe 15 per cent of the population of Ontario would have the slightest clue what this referendum is about, Elections Ontario has a tough job.

Any editor or reporter could tell them the problem they face: There is no such thing as being impartial.   The very act of trying to explain the two options creates a conundrum. They are being forced to pose two options as though they are alternatives.   They are giving credibility to the idea of mixed-member proportional representation that it does not deserve when it is only one of many possibilities.

And to make matters worse, you had to be there to believe what Elections Ontario told us was necessary for us to be a ‘no’ committee.   Nobody, of sound mind, would want to play in that sandbox.

You may register, we were told, but if you spend more than $500 on (what they determine to be) advertising, you will report to us every penny you collect and where and from whom you got it.   Further, you will then declare where you spend this money and if there is any left over, you will promptly give it to us at Elections Ontario.

That would likely be on the same day that our pet pigs learn to fly.

This caused a serious right-about face on our plans to be an official ‘no’ campaign.   ‘Please do not send us your money,’ was the gist of an immediate series of e-mails.   (We were assured by a few of the e-mail recipients that we need not have been concerned.)

If it was any consolation to most of us, we were on the ‘no’ side of the last federal referendum.   That was an easy one.   It was the Charlottetown Accord.   Do you remember that all the party leaders supported that fiasco?   It lost.   Maybe that is why the two main political parties are keeping quiet on this referendum. They have enough problems without backing another loser.

And, while we have no intention of being complacent, this referendum looks like it is also heading for the dumper.   If Elections Ontario spends enough of our money to get more than 60 per cent of the population to understand the options, they would likely have to bankrupt the province.   Besides, someone with more brains than the average politician made sure that it would require 60 per cent of the total votes in favour MMP voting and with more than 60 per cent of Ontario’s ridings voting in favour to be approved.

©Copyright 2007, 2011, Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me