A client was talking to me the other day about the BBC journalist Robert Peston, who turns out to be a surprisingly controversial character. A quick trawl of the internet reveals an astonishing (to me) amount of vitriol for the man who broke the news of Northern Rock’s collapse and foresaw the global financial crisis that followed.
I think we can learn two important lessons from Mr Peston (or Pesto as he is apparently affectionately known). The first is that, despite the plethora of nasty comments from all sorts of people, he believes in himself and keeps going. And, let’s face it, his career is not going badly! The breathtaking rudeness and unkindness of some of the barbs thrown at him, especially from unpleasant internet types hiding behind anonymous user names, would be enough to silence a lot of people (including me) and I admire Pesto for staying out there in the firing line and continuing to provide the nation with the benefit of his journalistic insights, analysis and explanations.
The reason Robert Peston is interesting to those of us involved in public speaking is that, although he has improved significantly over the years, his delivery is extraordinarily bad. This is the second lesson we can learn from him: however earth-shattering your content may be, if you deliver it badly the audience will find it difficult to take in what you’re saying and your impact will be lost.
Pesto is famous for having a bizarre, disjointed delivery – so much so that the Radio 4 spoof programme Listen Against ran a series of sketches called What’s Distracting Peston? The cause of his apparent distractedness, I gathered from an interview with him on another Radio 4 programme, Feedback, is that his mind is so busy he can’t decide which idea to express first. He’s got so much to tell us, he just can’t get it out quickly (ie, coherently) enough.
An article in The Daily Telegraph (click here to read it in full) includes this quotation: “Unless you have edited your thoughts,” says one broadcaster, “you can’t get them out. With Peston, you can almost hear the washing machine going round.”
The same article reports Pesto’s own view that he could have done with some coaching early on but also quotes him as saying: “I am not going to endeavour to become somebody hugely smooth and polished and completely phoney.” The first part is manifestly sensible: get yourself some coaching before you develop a reputation for being practically impossible to understand. And I have to take issue with the second part. ‘Smooth and polished’ and ‘completely phoney’ are TOTALLY different concepts. Of course some people are both, just as some people are dishonest and blond, but the two are in no way related. Having a smooth, polished delivery means your audience can understand and appreciate what you’re telling them – rather than wondering what’s distracting you.
If your delivery doesn’t do justice to your content, don’t struggle on and hope for the best. A couple of sessions of public speaking coaching can make all the difference.