Becalmed in Olympic Glory and mulling over a gruelling September that might include a passing visit to Tajikistan.

Contact established with Helen Sewell at Simply Speaking. Helen looks at public speaking with the keen eye of journalism and science – a mighty combination. Here she analyses the performance of UK politicians in the election debates and spots lots of interesting details:

David Cameron gave a polished performance and came across as more statesmanlike than anyone else, with a gently understated power.

His non-verbal language was calm and quiet and his voice had a reassuring tone. He stayed composed and unruffled, even when heckled. In all, he presented a warm, authoritative figure …

Mr Cameron’s downfall involved his eyes. As soon as he finished speaking (and sometimes before) they flickered wildly, scanning like a rabbit in the headlights. This made him look nervous and shifty, significantly detracting from his authority …

I could also see him standing on the back foot, quite literally, for much of the time. This probably reflected how he felt in having to defend his actions of the past five years.

We the cynical shallow public simply don’t care about just how horribly difficult it is to come over well both to the audience on the night and a watching TV audience. Tiny if not involuntary body movements made in the heat of the moment can have quite disproportionate impact. What works well for the physical audience might be hopeless for the millions watching on TV, and vice versa.

Thus Ed Miliband:

Ed Miliband made a significant error in judgement this evening. He ignored the studio audience and the other party leaders in favour of the camera lens. He used the techniques that good TV presenters are supposed to use – he’s obviously been taught what to do – but it felt unreal, over-rehearsed, non-credible. I wanted to see a real person, but his overly practised performance showed me a caricature of a politician instead.

Some natural pauses would have been useful and could have significantly increased Mr Miliband’s presence and authority. But he failed to give people time to take in his words, and his verbal attacks on the Prime Minister felt somewhat petulant.

Mr Miliband’s voice also sounded strangulated and congested. There are physiological reasons for this: he habitually tilts his voice box, squeezing his internal neck muscles which choke his sound. I suspect that muscular bad habits also create his blocked nose effect, despite an operation a few years ago to correct a deviated septum (the internal bit that separates the left and right nostril) …

And Mr Miliband absolutely has to become more genuine if he wants voters to believe in him.

Haha he has to become ‘more’ genuine, where a jump from 20% genuinity to (say) 76% will really help. No doubt. But how exactly to become (sic) more genuine if you’re not in fact genuine? Mr M’s answer to this basic question was impressively stupid:

Then there’s high heels:

Nicola Sturgeon was also in very high heels, and some of her brain power was obviously directed towards keeping her balance and preventing her from falling over. She alternated between tottering around, crossing one leg in front of the other in a little-girl-needs-the-bathroom manner, and leaning sideways on the podium for balance.

Helen has strong objections to high heels in professional contexts:

The tiptoe foot posture created by high heels forces you to arch backwards to compensate for the balance issue. This stretches your abdominal muscles – pulling them tightly and leaving very little slack for you to breathe effectively into your belly.

Because your breathing is shallower, your breathing rate increases. You have to breathe more times per minute to take in the same amount of oxygen. And this faster breathing makes the body think it is under stress. It mimics the faster breathing of the adrenaline-prompted fight or flight response which allows you to act physically to save your life (running from danger or killing the enemy) ..

Under stress, the body shunts oxygenated blood away from your brain and down to the muscles of your arms and legs that need it to deal with a life-threatening event. Less brain oxygen equates to less clear thinking. And that can be a problem, particularly if you need to express yourself successfully in a pressurised situation such as a business pitch, a talk or a media interview.


Details. People in an audience never think about them. But they sense when something is not quite right, and love it when everything just clicks. See this for a perfect example of sustained tiny attention to every detail paying off gloriously.