University of Zurich, KOH-B-10, October 17, 2016, 18:40 – 19:26 h. Organised by the Schweizerisches Institut für Auslandforschung SIAF.
It was an honor and a privilege to have the former Britisch prime minister visit the University of Zurich and be able to experience him at first hand. The presentation was even more relevant because of the recent vote of the UK to exit the European Union. No wonder was the lecture hall filled to almost the last seat available, i.e. about 440 attendees.
Former prime minister John Major argued that the exit came as a surprise to many and that there were going to be many negative consequences. He praised the overall achievements of the European Union, acknowledging some difficulties. The key achievement being peace in Europe after the first and second world war. One of the mistakes the EU in his opinion did, was to let too many countries adopt the Euro too early. Sir John argued that the vote in favor of the Brexit had to do with the fact, that many British citizens haven’t seen a raise in their living standard for the past 10 years.
Now to the topic of this blog: How good a public speaker is John Major?
On the positive side:
- Use of humor: He opened and ended his speech with a joke. First with a joke about Gorbachev, then with one about Jelzin. John Major also deflected some potentially difficult questions with humor during the Q&A session.
- Declaring his standpoint: He clearly said what his personal opinion was about the Brexit: He thinks it was a mistake. Comment: This puts things into perspective and let’s the audience understand more easily that he leans to one or the other side of the argument.
- Relate to the audience: Sir John related to a large part of the audience when he (sarcastically) asked the students in the audience: „Are 65 million British citizens going to get the same deal as 500 million citizens of the EU? Discuss!“ He earned a big laugh from that (, assuming that that will not be the case).
Areas for improvement:
- Voice: John Major’s voice was not constantly audible. His voice tended to soften at the end of sentences to the point that he could no longer be understood. Suggestion: Articulate clearly and loudly until the end of every sentence.
- One sided: Many arguments were unbalanced. E.g. NATO is good, Russia is bad. (No mention of the promise that NATO gave to Russia: We will not expand NATO if you let us reunite Germany.) Suggestion: When preaching to the converted that works fine, probably less so when speaking to a large number of (most likely) critical university students.
Sir John Major’s key strength is his humor. Unfortunately he could not always be acoustically well understood. In addition, in a school paper (and, in my humble opinion, hopefully by the press) he would have been asked to give a more balanced view.
A worthwhile event to go to, if only to experience first hand how a former and current leader speaks.
On a scale of 1 (stay home) to 10 (world champion): 7