Blog: Local government and horses

An excellent email forwarded to me today really captures the essence (sometimes!) of working in local government.  Interestingly, the original email came from an old colleague who had moved  back to New Zealand and works in local government there.  Suggests to me that my dream of moving to New Zealand might not be all it’s cracked up to be…!

The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians, passed on from generation to
generation, says that; “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse,
the best strategy is to dismount.”

However, in government and local government, more advanced strategies are often
employed, such as:

1. Buying a stronger whip.

2. Changing riders.

3. Appointing a committee to study the horse.

4. Arranging to visit other countries to see how other cultures ride dead
horses.

5. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.

6. Reclassifying the dead horse as living-impaired.

7. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.

8. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase speed.

9. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase dead horse’s
performance.

10. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the
dead horse’s performance.

11. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed , it is less
costly, carries lower overhead and therefore contributes substantially more
to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.

12. Rewriting the expected performance requirements for all horses.

and of course….

13. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position.

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Speeches: My first speechwriting gig

After attending the UK Speechwriters Guild Conference 2012 at the Institute for Government, not only did I set up this blog but decided to promote my new skills in the office.

This has resulted in my first speechwriting gig for our Director of Environment and Regeneration.  He will be speaking at the DEFRA-supported Inside Government event Securing the Future of Our Natural Environment” on 15 March 2012 at the Strand Palace Hotel.

I’ll use this post to update you on my progress and thoughts as I work on my very first speech.

Stay posted!

Update

There was a quick turnaround with this speech.   I spoke to the client on a Thursday agreeing to meet for 1/2 an hour the following Tuesday afternoon, the only slot left in his diary before he was due to deliver his speech.

Given ongoing work commitments, we were both short on time so I devised a quick questionnaire in lieu of an initial consultation.  This seemed to work:

Why are YOU speaking?

WHO are you speaking to?

How LONG are you expected to speak for?

WHAT is your “proposition”? – (special thanks to CreativityWorks for highlighting the importance of this to me)

WHY does what you want to say matter?

This helped him hone in on exactly the message he wanted to deliver and, simply, encouraged him to think about why he is spending his time writing and delivering a speech.  Simple enough to focus on his message!

He sent through his initial draft, which was a combination of his ideas and some comments he’d gathered from colleagues across his department.  My job was to structure it in a coherent way and, in particular, write a strong close to the speech.

A weekend of work led to our meeting on the Tuesday where I talked through my suggestions.  In particular, focusing on 3 key areas of work in protecting the natural environment (the ‘3’ being a standard speechwriting tool) and limiting the number of examples in each.  The closing was focused on reminding the audience exactly what he’d told them and, in particular, the ‘take home message’ (recognise what you’re doing and encourage others to do the same).  He seemed grateful for these suggestions.

The speech was delivered and, seemingly, well received as judged by this email:

Eshaan,

Speech went very well – bookings at the comedy club have already been accepted!

Thanks for the advice.

How’s this for testimonial ?

“Eshaan has a sharp mind and knows what works well in a speech taking into account the audience and the message.  He helped me ensure that I got my points across in a clear and humorous way.”

Speechwriting gig 1 a success I’d say!

 

Speeches: Making It Stick

If you asked someone to deliver a 3-minute speech to explain the pentatonic scale with no instruments, you might be tempted to write about its history, the various types of pentatonic scale such as hemitonic and anhemitonic or its relevance to multiple musical genres.

All well and good but, given the technicality of it, how would you make the message stick? Especially if you use no more than 34 words in 3 minutes?

Like this.

The audience aren’t necessarily musically inclined and neither does Bobby McFerrin have any instruments available to him.  But you and everyone else in that audience will forever remember the pentatonic scale.  The audience don’t really care about its history or the types of scales there are.

When writing a speech, it’s obviously important to ensure the audience are given the information they need and nothing more.  If this was being presented to the Royal College of Music, perhaps it might be done differently.

Similarly, there is absolutely no substitute for audience involvement, especially en masse, when attempting to make a message stick.  This has to be practical of course, but a speech which gets the audience actively doing or thinking about something is infinitely more memorable than one which doesn’t.

And finally, this shows that words are well and truly sacred.  With no more than 34 words spoken by McFerrin, and none to the audience (though I don’t recommend this for people actually delivering speeches!), it highlights that the quality of the words you choose to write matter considerably more than the quantity.  A 20-minute speech does not need 130 words spoken in each minute (2,600 words or so…).

Blog: Young, Black and Unemployed

Yesterday, I discovered a concept that I believed would change the face of comedy and community integration forever. As an Asian friend was relaying the story of an over inquisitive coach driver making her uncomfortable, I suggested that there was one way to end the confrontation quickly. To look directly into the eyes of the driver and say “is it ‘cos my hijab is black?” And lo and behold, the concept of the Double Whammy Difference (DWD) was born. Playing the victim with not one, but TWO distinctive characteristics that you know will make others, for example, compliment the wonderful smells that emanate from their black-hijab-wearing neighbour’s kitchen at 6am. Every day.

But my excitement was short-lived. As with so many fledgling discoveries, I failed at the first hurdle, namely that something similar existed. In today’s Guardian, Dianne Abbott brought to the world the TWD – Triple Whammy Difference – by highlighting the plight of unemployed young black people in the UK. Unemployed. Young. And black. I’m not bitter that she bettered my genius (honest) but her analysis of the current unemployment situation in the UK is irresponsible and dangerous.

As Mehdi Hasan highlighted just a few days ago, unemployment is an epidemic affecting the whole of Europe. This is a problem that transcends national, racial and generational boundaries. Its societal impacts are well documented and the potential solutions well rehearsed. But given that the problem is one of national (and international) concern, localising it to one specific ethnic group when, lest we forget, ethnic minorities are still that – a minority – such thinking has the potential to fracture community relations. A few years ago, the BNP rode the wave of discontent over housing provision and at one point had 12 councillors in the local council. Start focusing attention on local, ethnic issues related to a national problem and you run the risk of a similar pool of discontent.

Youth unemployment faces the same, if not worse challenges than unemployment in general, regarded as a major issue across the world. The potential for a lost generation accustomed to unemployment has major ramifications for the future wellbeing of the UK and the world at large. But, we’ve been here before. Recessions do have a worse impact on young people who are less skilled to demand jobs requiring experience and find themselves unable to gather the experience they need as opportunities seem few and far between. In terms of skill sets and levels of education, a young ethnic minority person faces the same challenges as anyone else from a similar socioeconomic background. The problem lies not in the colour of their skin but in the culture of education and skills provision in this country. The education system is designed to produce clones that are expected to perform as compartments in a large factory machine called employment. Being young is a problem because you’re the same as everyone else.

Looking at data about the black community across all ages in terms of unemployment, there is a trend. Black Africans and Black Caribbean groups have the highest rates of unemployment of all ethnic minorities. It is fair to expect that this would be mirrored in younger age groups, as the Quarterly Labour Force Survey Diane Abbott refers to reveals. Black Africans rank third of the seven ethnic groups in terms of being ‘economically inactive and not wanting to work’ (behind Bangladeshis and Pakistanis). A quarter of Black African, Bangladeshi and Black Caribbean households are workless. Academically, Black Africans fare better than their Caribbean counterparts in GCSE attainment, whilst Black Africans have the highest representation of all ethnic minorities at undergraduate, postgraduate and higher degree levels. But the critical point is this; even if every single ethnic minority person was employed, representatively, they would still be in the minority overall. If there are issues within communities around unemployment or academic attainment, expecting a national solution when we should be focussing on the overall problem together is, to my mind, selfish.

It is reckless to frame an issue of national concern with specific racial characteristics. Our priority should be to create an environment where unemployment as a whole is being addressed and an atmosphere for innovative, forward-thinking enterprise and growth is promoted. Your colour doesn’t matter. What you can do, does.

When nobody is having a bite of the pie, everyone is being left behind. When everyone is having a bite of the pie but people are still being left behind, then we have a problem worth addressing. Britain should not be afraid to pat itself on the back from time to time. We have a much lesser problem with racial exclusion than we give ourselves credit for.