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Politics Matters By David Stewart: Sadly, nobody is immune to public speaking blunders in light of Boris Johnson’s public speaking meltdown


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David Stewart.
David Stewart.

Did you watch Boris Johnson’s public speaking meltdown at a business event this week?

Of course, it is so easy to take comfort from his discomfort. Everyone who has made a speech – politicians, football managers or even a father-of-the-bride – knows that dreaded feeling in the pit of the stomach hours before the big moment arrives!

So I guess there is a sense of “it could have been me” even from opposition parties at Westminster.

I saw a great quote about speaking this week. Edward Murrow said: “The best speakers know enough to be scared… the only difference between the pros and the novices is that the pros have trained the butterflies to fly in formation.”

Boris Johnson and Highland MSP Douglas Ross.
Boris Johnson and Highland MSP Douglas Ross.

The Book of Lists, a trivia book published in 1977, had a list of the worst human fears. Number one was speaking before a group – followed by heights, insects and bugs, and finally financial problems. Of course, some may argue that no one ever died giving a speech. Political anoraks will tell you that is not quite right. President William Henry Harrison did – he developed pneumonia after giving the longest inaugural address in US history.

As a young Inverness district councillor in the 1980s, a friend took me along to the Speakers Club, which, as the name suggested, provided excellent training to budding, sparkling speakers. But even with training, experience and a bit of confidence, things can go wrong.

My friend Norma is a seasoned speaker. He was a Labour candidate for the Euro elections (remember them…?) He was speaking in Eden Court at a national conference. He went up to speak – only to discover his speech was still laying at home on the kitchen table!

I’ve had my share of meltdowns. During my time chairing the Scottish Parliament’s Petitions Committee, I was sent to Johannesburg, to deliver a speech to around 600 delegates from across the globe. First, the good news – parliamentary officials provided me with a neat PowerPoint and a video for the 20-minute presentation. My job was to fill in the gaps.

Then the bad news – I arrived at the conference hall in South Africa and could not find anyone to help me run that technical part of the speech. Then, with five minutes to go, my presentation appeared on a giant screen and behind my lectern, the day was saved!

• I see that a group of Highland councillors have started a campaign to have a Lord Provost for the city. Good luck to their campaign.

I looked at this as an option during the city status campaign in 2000. A Lord Provost and city status go hand in hand. Maybe it might encourage more interest in the local authority elections next year…?

• Tomorrow is a big day in the football calendar with more Scottish Cup games. I am sure no Caley Thistle fan will ever forget defeating Celtic at Parkhead in the cup. I imagine the sub-editor who dreamed up ‘Super Caley Goes Ballistic, Celtic Are Atrocious’ is still dining out on that headline! (Sorry to all Celtic fans...)

I was at Hampden for the final in 2015 with my family and still have to rub my eyes to check it did happen. So tomorrow, Caley Thistle will play Morton. Perhaps not the most glamourous fixture and will be hard fought.

But every fan and player will be thinking about a warm day in May with the sun shining, while lifting the Scottish Cup.

The dream never dies!


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