Why the good talkers carry the day, and vice versa

Why the good talkers carry the day, and vice versa

What makes a foggy-minded thinker so eager to go public with his half-baked thoughts? Ego? Overconfidence? The promise of fifteen minutes of fame? Perhaps all three.

And yet the risks should be clear: the damage of winging it in public can be fatal to an image or a career.

To me, an ex-hack myself, the look on the face of these people is something I always hoped for. When it happened, it was instantly clear: the speaker lost his way, forgot what he wanted to say, talked in circles and became putty in my hands. I have crucified more of these newsmakers than a Roman Legionnaire.

The squirming source makes “great television”, a place you don’t want to be. We have seen it on the BBC, CNN, France24 and numerous lesser conduits of the news round.

Politicians should know better, and indeed some of them do, having submitted to professional grooming to learn the pitfalls. Others wrongly believe they can game the system. The way forward: media training followed by presentation training.

The true professionals seem to come from Britain, oddly enough. David Cameron is adept at expressing his thoughts – whatever one may think of them. Tony Blair was adored by Americans who loved his Oxford Union poise and his posh accent. His 2003 address to the U.S. Congress prompted more applause before he started speaking than most presidents get afterward. We forget how high he once flew.

But you can’t fool all the people all the time. As one commentator opined: “Poetic dribble from a war criminal. Mindless applause from Congress, many of whom likely needed a thesaurus to understand Blair’s clichés.”

It didn’t seem to matter. Tony Blair had his delivery – and his laugh lines — down pat.

The root cause of public disasters is the lazy mind, a propensity to sloppy speech and unfinished arguments. Not quite knowing what one wants to say leaves all the cards in the hands of others.

The benefits of clear thinking go beyond image-building. The well-spoken executive carries the day in any company meeting; those who mumble and stumble are quickly shunted aside.

I once worked with a colleague at McGraw-Hill in New York who had the clearest mind at the table, far superior to mine. His colleagues came to count on him to sum up their meandering talk in the final minutes of a meeting. Most of them could not remember what had been said, much less put it into a few well-chosen words. His job was never in danger.

Michael Johnson is an international writer and journalist based in Bordeaux. His commentaries and reviews appear in the International New York Times, American Spectator, thecolumnists.com and Facts & Arts, among other publications.

Article date

August 26th, 2014

Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson is an international writer and journalist based in Bordeaux.

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