David Cameron’s ‘Europe’ speech which was finally delivered on 23 January gives us an excellent example of one of the most important yet subtle skills of public speaking. It’s the difference between ‘delivering’ and ‘telling’ and, sadly for Mr Cameron, this example was how not to do it.
In fairness, he did improve as the speech progressed but for the first 15 minutes his intonation was highly repetitive with an annoying rising pitch at the end of words and sentences. The net result was that his messages swam over us rather than engaging and holding us.
It’s a very common problem among speakers of all levels of experience and it’s often a result of over rehearsal or over familiarity with the material. If you’re giving the same presentation 20 times on, say, an investor roadshow, you get to the point where you know the words so well, you’re not thinking about them any more. You are delivering a presentation, not telling a story.
My advice to the people I train, to avoid this problem, is to make eye contact with individuals in the audience and to remind themselves, repeatedly, as they prepare to speak: “This audience has never heard it before”.