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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Avoid famous people doing you a favour

Clint Eastwood says that before he gave his speech at the Republican Convention the organisers wanted to know what he was going to say.

"They vet most of the people, but I told them, 'You can't do that with me, because I don't know what I'm going to say,'"

He says he got the idea for his bizarre dialogue with an empty stool as he was waiting to go on.

Think about that. How fragile must your hold on reality be if  you think that the idea which occurred to you a few seconds ago will enthral an entire nation?

He was supposed to do five minutes. He did twelve. Usually when things over-run it's because the speech is going over well. Not even a huge movie star who spends their lives in a warm bath of acclaim can possibly have thought that was the case here.

Here's what I've learned about public speaking. The only good public speakers are the nervous ones. I've found this to be true on big platforms and in tiny rooms above pubs.

Anyone who tells you they're nervous will be fine. Anyone who tells you they're not nervous will be a disaster. And, what's more, they'll be so lacking in awareness that afterwards they won't know how badly it's gone.

This applies with humans but even more with celebrities. There's something in the make-up of famous people that leads them to believe they can get on their feet and compose something funny and inspiring with no preparation.

I once took part in a high-profile debate which involved a rock star. I've done lots of public speaking which is why I sweated on my preparation. He'd done none which is why he thought he could just stand up and do it. He couldn't. Oh boy, he couldn't. And I bet, like Clint Eastwood, he still doesn't know how badly he did.

Mark Ellen and I have discussed this many times over the years in planning events. Through bitter experience we learned that you should particularly beware a star who thinks they're doing you a favour. If they think they're doing you a favour they will have been inadequately briefed about the nature of the event by their representatives, will do no preparation before the event and then at the last minute will be so paralysed with nerves and self-consciousness that they'll launch into a riff which has no ending, usually one that disparages the event in a clumsy effort to look above it all. Avoid them.