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Triffids influencing speakers ability to act.

It occurred to me after my post mentioning the Day Of The Triffids a couple of weeks ago that there was a second part to the quote I used that I find rather interesting in terms of events and professional speakers. Whilst certain elements of it are clearly out dated, classist and patronising – there is still an element to it that is entirely relevant and of interest.

The character Coker clearly believes that it is not just the content of a presentation / speech that matters – but the way you say it. No great surprise to anyone reading this in the events industry… However, his stance actually goes further than we would ever dare today to suggest accent and hidden social classes also impact on the impact of a presentation.

“Half the political intelligentsia who talk to a working audience don’t get the value of their stuff across – not so much because they’re over their audience’s heads, as because most of the chaps are listening to the voice and not to the words, so they knock a big discount off what they do hear because it’s all a bit fancy, and not like ordinary normal talk. So I reckoned the thing to do was to make myself bilingual, and use the right one in the right place – and occasionally the wrong one in the wrong place, unexpectedly. Surprising how that jolts ‘em. Wonderful thing, that English caste system. Since then I’ve made out quite nicely in the orating business. Not what you’d call a steady job, but full of interest and variety. Wilfred Coker. Meeting addressed. Subject no object. That’s me.”

The above is a direct copy from the 1980 version of the book published by Penguin.

And let’s face it, he is to a large extent right. If the speaker uses an accent and language that we empathise with, understand and are even a part of we are certainly going to pay far more attention than someone who knows nothing about their audience.

In fact he goes one step further to suggest it is in the best interest of the speaker to learn to speak differently, adopting stronger or weaker accents and terminology depending on the audience. And so, this begs the question – should professional speakers also be actors, able to change and assimilate audience needs at will – in order to achieve retention of their message. I certainly think so, in fact one of the best examples I know of is Billy Connelly. If anyone has ever seen recordings of his live stand up shows they will no doubt have noticed that his accent is considerably broader when he performs in Glasgow than almost anywhere else. Perhaps it is conscious thought, maybe it is intuitive – the result is a greater connectio with the audience…

Back to Coker though… I also love the fact that he clearly uses the element of surprise in his speeches and presentations. The wrong word in the wrong place is a method, that even sixty years ago when our modern event industry was in its infancy, would make an audience sit up and take notice.

He is right, it is vital that we use the right messages in the right place to achieve audience interest. However, the wrong message can occasionally be just as (if not more) powerful.


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