How not to screw up an introduction like the ABC moderators at the Republican Presidential Debate

The Republican Presidential Debate on 6 February 2016 began in appalling fashion. And I am not talking about the candidates. Take a look.

I would have expected better. Seriously, it looked like amateur hour.

Many people have been poking fun at Ben Carson and Donald Trump for missing their cues. But it wasn’t their fault. The traffic jam was caused by the moderators, ABC News journalists David Muir, the anchor of “ABC World News Tonight with David Muir” and Martha Raddatz, the co-anchor of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

DebateAfter Muir introduces Chris Christie, Raddatz doesn’t wait for the applause to die down before introducing Carson. Carson does not hear his name and so, understandably, does not walk on stage. Thus begins the traffic jam.

Ted Cruz is called to the stage and you can see the confusion on his face as he acknowledges Carson. Then, at 0:31, one of the stagehands starts waving to Carson to go on stage. But Carson—justifiably—stays put. I would have too. Every candidate deserves a proper introduction.

It looks like the stagehand blocks Donald Trump long enough for the latter not to hear his name and so Trump joins Carson in the wings. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush manage to make it on stage and then, at 1:04, if you listen carefully, you can hear Muir call John Kasich in an almost inaudible voice. Not surprisingly, Kasich doesn’t show.

So now, at 1:10 of the video, we have three out seven candidates (43%) off stage. At this point, things go from bad to worse as Muir tries to verbally shovel Ben Carson onto the stage. Raddatz—once again—calls Donald Trump while the applause is still too loud, and then they both forget John Kasich. Someone had to remind them.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy! Come on, people, you’re supposed to be professionals.

Part of the problem—and you can see it when the camera shows the entire stage—is that both moderators are standing centre stage, in front of their desk facing the audience (as in the image above). Their backs are turned to the candidates so they cannot see them come on stage.

Here’s a news flash for the moderators: You’re not the attraction. It’s not about you. Your job is to make the debate run as smoothly as possible. Get the candidates on stage, ask tough questions, keep people on time and, generally, stay out of the way. Moderators can have their moment in the sun when they are introduced at the very beginning and at the very end after the candidates have had their final word. The rest of the time, it is about the candidates.

If you have to moderate a debate, here are some basic tips when it comes to introductions:

1. Before the debate, go over the procedure to be followed with all of the speakers together. Review the order in which speakers will be introduced, the wording that will be used to introduce them, when they should walk on stage and where they should go. If necessary, confirm the pronunciation of names with the relevant speakers. Answer any questions.

2. At the start of the debate, walk on stage, introduce yourself if this has not already been done, and make your introductory welcome remarks. Briefly explain the rules of the debate and then move to a less conspicuous position from which you can see the speakers.

3. Introduce each speaker in a loud, clear voice.

4. Wait until Speaker A has reached his or her speaking place and the applause has died down before announcing Speaker B. Repeat, as necessary, for additional speakers.

5. Introduce each speaker exactly the same way. The only differences should be their names and, if used, their positions or job titles.

6. In special cases, such as an election, when all of the speakers are in place, I think it looks sharp to make one final group introduction. For example, “Ladies and Gentlemen, your candidates for the Republican Presidential Nomination”. (I would not have done it in this particular instance because there were other candidates who were not invited to the debate because of their low ratings in the polls.)

I will revisit the subject of moderating an event in a future post.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 221) – Norman Vincent Peale

Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993) American Minister and Author

“I give the same mashed potatoes for each speech. I just change the gravy.”

—  Norman Vincent Peale

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Rhetorical Devices: Antithesis

This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.

Device: Antithesis

Origin: From the Greek ἀντί (anti) meaning “against” and θέσις (thesis) meaning “position”.

In plain English: Contrasting two different (often opposite) ideas in the same sentence or in two consecutive sentences.


  • The contrast between the two ideas is starker than it would be in ordinary speech.
  • The message or focus is usually on the second idea.


  • Antithesis always contains two different ideas.
  • The grammatical structure of antithesis should be balanced. The contrasting ideas must be expressed in a parallel manner.
  • Aristotle said that antithesis makes it easier for the audience to understand the point being made.


Speech is silver but silence is golden.”

— Unknown


Man proposesGod disposes.”

— Unknown


“To err is human; to forgive, divine.”

— Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1771)


“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”

— Martin Luther King, 28 August 1968


We find ourselves rich in goods, but ragged in spirit; reaching with magnificent precision for the moon, but falling into raucous discord on earth. We are caught in war, wanting peace. We are torn by division, wanting unity.

— Richard Nixon, 20 January 1969


“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

— Neil Armstrong, 21 July 1969


And finally, we must have a sense of responsibility for the future. We are not destined to be adversaries. But it is not guaranteed that we will be allies. For us, there is no fate waiting to be revealed, only a future waiting to be created — by the actions we take, the choices we make, and the genuine views we have of one another and of our own future.

— Bill Clinton, 5 June 2000 (Speech to the Russian Duma)

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 220) – William Zinsser

William Zinsser (1922 - 2015) American Writer, Editor and Literary Critic

William Zinsser (1922 – 2015) American Writer, Editor and Literary Critic

Who can understand the clotted language of everyday American commerce: the memo, the corporate report, the business letter, the notice from the bank explaining its latest “simplified” statement? What member of an insurance plan can decipher the brochure explaining the costs and benefits? What father or mother can put together a child’s toy from the instructions on the box? Our national tendency is to inflate and thereby sound important. The airline pilot who announces that he is presently anticipating experiencing considerable precipitation wouldn’t think of saying it may rain. The sentence is too simple—there must be something wrong with it.

“But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components. Every word that serves no function, every long word that could be a short word, every adverb that carries the same meaning that’s already in the verb, every passive construction that leaves the reader unsure who is doing what—these are the thousand and one adulterants that weaken the strength of a sentence. And they usually occur in proportion to education and rank.”

— William Zinsser in On Writing Well

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Stan Grant’s Speech on Racism in Australia

Stan Grant, an indigenous Australian journalist, gave a speech in October 2015 at a debate on racism in Australia. The video of that speech has been released and it has gone viral.

Stan GrantSeveral people are touting it as the Australian equivalent of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech. While I would not elevate this speech to that status—and Grant himself has said that, while he is flattered, he is “not in any way worthy of that sort of comparison”—it is an excellent speech. Forceful, hopeful, compelling, moving.

Interestingly, the speech was apparently delivered off-the-cuff. Said Grant,

I didn’t want to write anything, I didn’t want to be standing there looking down at notes. I just wanted to look people directly in the eye. I wanted to make a statement about how we live with the weight of history.

He succeeded.

It is hard not to be moved by such a poignant speech. Here are some thoughts on it.

  • Grant was right to stand behind the lectern. Usually, a speaker should be out in front of the lectern so as to shrink the distance between himself and the audience. But certain occasions mandate the use of a lectern. A debate such as this is one of those times.
  • He has great eye contact throughout the speech.
  • Grant’s voice was powerful without being overbearing. His pace was measured and he had excellent pauses.
  • He uses good hand gestures to emphasize his points. Even when he holds his hands together (starting at 1:05), it works well. Typically, speakers want to adopt and open posture and not hold their hands together; however, this is a good example of an exception to the rule.
  • He anchors his speech by returning to a phrase, “The Australian Dream”, 11 times. This certainly has echoes of Martin Luther’s King’s speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. In that speech, King invoked the phrase “I have a dream” eight times.
  • He uses alliteration to frame his arguments: “We heard a howl. We heard a howl of humiliation that echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival.” / “The Australian Dream is rooted in racism.”
  • Grant tells personal stories of his family members and the indignities that they suffered, whether they were indigenous or white. He thereby enhances his own credibility when it comes to the subject of racism in Australia.
  • He is humble in crediting his success to his family members who came before him.
  • He uses statistics to support his arguments. “My people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free. We are fewer than three percent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 percent, a quarter of those Australians locked up in our prisons and if you are a juvenile, it is worse, it is 50 percent. An Indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.”
  • Grant invokes passages from important Australian songs and poems—the Australian National Anthem and Dorothea Mackellar’s My Countryand then uses antimetabole to show how the state of indigenous peoples in Australia has been the opposite of what is praised in song and verse. 

 “We sing of it, and we recite it in verse. Australians all, let us rejoice for we are young and freeMy people die young in this country. We die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free.”

“I love a sunburned country, a land of sweeping plains, of rugged mountain ranges. It reminds me that my people were killed on those plains. We were shot on those plains, disease ravaged us on those plains.”

  • He uses commoratio to emphasize the disdain and hatred with which the British regarded the indigenous peoples of Australia: “And when British people looked at us, they saw something sub-human, and if we were human at all, we occupied the lowest rung on civilisation’s ladder. We were fly-blown, stone age savages and that was the language that was used.” 
  • Notwithstanding the foregoing, Grant sounds a hopeful note by appealing to the higher instincts of Australians.

“The Australian Dream. We’re better than this. I have seen the worst of the world as a reporter. I spent a decade in war zones from Iraq to Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We are an extraordinary country. We are in so many respects the envy of the world.”

And, using epistrophe: “Of course racism is killing the Australian Dream. It is self evident that it’s killing the Australian dream. But we are better than that. The people who stood up and supported Adam Goodes and said, “No more,” they are better than that. The people who marched across the bridge for reconciliation, they are better than that. The people who supported Kevin Rudd when he said sorry to the Stolen Generations, they are better than that. My children and their non-Indigenous friends are better than that. My wife who is not Indigenous is better than that.”

  • He concludes by returning to the line from the Australian that he referenced at the beginning. He thus has a circular ending. But more than that, he emphasizes the word “all” to show his hope for the future: “And one day, I want to stand here and be able to say as proudly and sing as loudly as anyone else in this room, Australians all, let us rejoice.”

Congratulations, Stan Grant on your excellent speech. Here’s hoping that it leads to some positive, concrete steps in your country. And elsewhere.

To all my friends Down Under, Happy Australia Day!

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 219) – Tony Robbins

Tony Robbins - American Motivational Speaker and Author

Tony Robbins – American Motivational Speaker and Self-Help Author

“Give more to your audience than they have any right to expect.”

— Tony Robbins

Photo courtesy of Brian Solis / Flickr
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Toastmasters’ Most Buzzworthy Speeches of 2015

Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organization’s membership exceeds 332,000 in more than 15,400 clubs in 135 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience.

2015Toastmasters recently named seven speeches as the most “buzzworthy” of 2015. The speeches were chosen because they were thought-provoking, emotional and inspiring, and they captured the attention of audiences around the world. What is the secret to giving a speech that is viewed and shared by millions of people? As Toastmasters says, “A successful speech resonates with interesting content and a heartfelt delivery.”

Each speech below has its merits. You should take the time to watch at least a few of them. And if you would like to recommend one of your favourite speeches of 2015, please leave a comment with a link to it.

  • February 9:  As Beck walked on stage to accept the Album of the Year Grammy®; he was met by Kanye West who looked as if he was going to repeat his infamous Taylor Swift interruption from the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Fortunately, West sat back down without incident, Beck kept his composure and delivered a thoughtful and gracious speech.
  • February 22:  When J.K. Simmons won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for his performance in “Whiplash,” he took the opportunity to remind people to call their parents. “I’m told there’s like a billion people or so (watching). Call your mom. Call your dad, if you are lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call ‘em on the phone. Tell them you love them, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you.”
  • May 17:  As he gave the commencement speech at George Washington University, Apple CEO Tim Cook implored the graduates to follow their values as they seek a career. “Graduates, your values matter. They are your North Star. Otherwise it’s just a job—and life is too short for that.”
  • May 20:  After 33 years and more than 6,000 episodes, David Letterman ended his final Late Show with his typical self-deprecating humor, telling the audience “in light of all of this praise, merited or not, do me a favor; save a little for my funeral. I’d appreciate it.”
  • July 15:  As she accepted the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs, Caitlyn Jenner made an emotional plea to viewers. “If you want to call me names, make jokes, doubt my intentions, go ahead, because the reality is I can take it. But for the thousands of kids out there who are coming to terms with being true to who they are, they shouldn’t have to take it.”
  • August 15 With his humorous speech, “The Power of Words,” Saudi Arabian Mohammed Qahtani was crowned Toastmasters’2015 World Championship of Public Speaking. Qahtani beat nearly 30,000 other contestants from more than 100 countries to win the championship with his a personal tale about events in his life where “if words had been said differently, they would have elicited a radically different response.”
  • September 20:  Becoming the first African-American to win the Emmy® for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Viola Davis gave a speech about the need for more diversity in Hollywood. “The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is opportunity,” she said. “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 218) – Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman (1946 – 2016) English Actor and Director

“It is an ancient need to be told stories. But the story needs a great storyteller.”

— Alan Rickman

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A Lesson from David Bowie’s Final Album

Participation is a fundamental aspect of my workshops with corporations and organizations. If you are going to attend my workshops, you are going to speak.  Often. There is no escape.

I also get people to participate in the lectures that I give; however, given the size of the classes and the limited time, it not possible to give everyone a chance to speak. So I ask for volunteers. You can guess the usual reaction.

Most people (understandably) hesitate to be the first to take the stage. Instead, they usually look at each other and then laugh (nervously). It’s around this time that I tell them this: “Remember, when you get to the end of your life, you will regret more the things that you didn’t do than the things that you did.” Invariably, people raise their hands to volunteer.

I thought of this phenomenon this week while reading some of the tributes to David Bowie who passed away at the age of 69. I would not classify myself as a huge Bowie fan, but I did (and do) love several of his songs including Space OddityRebel Rebel, Changes, Let’s Dance and my favourite (co-written and performed with Queen), Under Pressure.

Two days before his death, Bowie released his final album entitled Blackstar. Bowie knew that he was dying while making the album, and it has come to light that he and the production team had planned its release as a farewell gift to coincide with his passing.

Tony Visconti, the producer who worked with Bowie on the album wrote on his Facebook page:

He always did what he wanted to do. And he wanted to do it his way and he wanted to do it the best way. His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift. I knew for a year this was the way it would be. I wasn’t, however, prepared for it. He was an extraordinary man, full of love and life. He will always be with us. For now, it is appropriate to cry.

You can read more about the release of the album here and here.

BlackstarThe first song from Blackstar  (released on 17 December 2015 as an advance single) was Lazarus. The title comes from the name of the man in the biblical story whom Jesus raises from the dead four days after he died. It is lyrical and it is moving and I like it. The song has received a lot of critical acclaim.

Today I saw the video of Lazarus for the first time and that is what prompted the writing of this post. It is a perfect video for the song: compelling and disturbingly haunting.

Here’s the way I interpret the video (and yes, it’s just my interpretation and you may well have a different take on it): Bowie is on his deathbed, reflecting on his life. At 2:42 of the video, he realizes that he has more to do, more to say. He grabs his pen and begins to think. The ideas come, with difficulty at first, but by 3:20 inspiration strikes and the words start flowing. Unfortunately, time runs out and at 3:50 Bowie is pulled into the closet, which strikes me as a fairly obvious metaphor for a coffin. His life is over; he can do no more.

At his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs said:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

So if you have something to say, stand up and say it. If you have an important message to share, stand up and share it. Remember, when you get to the end of your life, you will regret more the things that you didn’t do than the things that you did. R.I.P. David Bowie.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 217) – Walt Disney

Walt Disney (1901 - 1966) American Entrepreneur, Cartoonist and Animator

Walt Disney (1901 – 1966) American Entrepreneur, Cartoonist and Animator

“Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it better.”

— Walt Disney

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