A GREEK TRAGEDY

Act I.  OUT OF CONTROL

After joining the eurozone, Greece believes it has become rich and goes on a ten year spending spree. Understandable. New currencies can be confusing.  Ten years on and it finds out it’s not as rich as it thought and needs a bailout loan of €110 billion, an average of €100,000 for every man, woman and child on the islands, or the bailiffs will be called.  Greece is not alone.  Other Europeans overspend too but they hadn’t hosted the Olympics.

Act II.  THE PRESSURE MOUNTS

Greece’s credit rating is cut when its true economic situation is better understood by the moneymen. This increases the interest rate Greece pays on its borrowings.  It faces making the same progress paying the debt off in monthly instalments as Aristotle would make drying his toga in a rainstorm.

Act III.  THE PLOT THICKENS

Twelve months later, it becomes clear that someone has under-counted.  The bailout loan is €130 billion short.  People got cross, very cross.  The French and Germans are particularly livid.

ACT IV.  THE NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL

To the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris.  “Sacrebleu. Grecs putain,” screams Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Prime minister to his cabinet colleagues.  Meanwhile at home in the German countryside, Angela Merkel chops a bratwurst she has nicknamed ‘Hades’ with a knife someone brought back from a holiday in Crete. Newspapers lead with headlines that the eurozone and the single currency are in jeopardy and that the global banking system has a noose around its neck.

ACT V. THE DEAL

The world’s smartest bankers and politicians cook up a recovery plan.  Fears for the Greek economy and the euro fade. Foreign visitors arrive in Athens bearing gifts – a 50% write down of Greece’s national debt in return for a promise they’ll go easy on the spending for a while.  World leaders applaud the banking system’s magnanimity.

ACT VI. THE REFERENDUM

But then, like the man who brought a knife to a gunfight, George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, is troubled.  He wants needs a second opinion on whether to accept the gift.  Without telling the bankers or politicians, he announces a referendum.  The financial markets react badly to his ingratitude.

Papandreou argues that his people are rioting in the streets after earlier austerity steps and argues his people need a say in further spending cuts.  The EU decides to hold on to an €8 billion cheque it has waiting, ready to send, as an incentive to reconsider.

ACT VII. THE BETRAYAL

Evangelos Venizelos, Papandreou’s finance minister and deputy PM, returns from an awkward meeting with Sarkozy and Merkel.  He’s impatient, unable to wait for his ballot paper.  He announces to the world’s press that he’s not prepared to risk Greece’s membership of the Euro and calls on Papandreou to reconsider the referendum.  The Greek cabinet splits and the world holds its breath.

ACT VIII:  THE GREEK PARLIAMENT RECONVENES

Papandreou calls his ministers together for an emergency chat.  He offers his resignation, but then takes it back when they’re nice to him.  He cancels the referendum. The moneymen, relieved, open a bottle and drink from the neck.  “That was a close call,” they say.

Papandreou goes home and walks into his dimly lit office, pours a glass of Ouzo and wonders what the next day’s headlines might be. He calls his bookie and bets €130 billion they’ll say his political career is over.

ACT X: 

The narrator returns to the stage. The audience looks particularly stressed.  “Don’t worry,” he says in soothing tones. “It’s only a play. It would never happen in real life …” 

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A VERY CIVIL DISTURBANCE

The middle class is revolting.  They’re polite, civilised, peaceful and hygienic, but revolting.

They’re mixing it with bankers on the sidewalks of Wall Street and with tourists on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. But their global message is consistent:  a stench of inequality pervades the modern world where the greedy and corrupt one per cent is not playing nice with the rest of us.

Like their buddies on the eastern coast of the United States, Occupy London is not prepared to put up with it anymore. They’re done queuing. They’ve brought tents, woolly blankets and smart phones to the war on capitalism.  They’re waging peaceful protest on the corridors of power and privilege. They have rapacious bankers and greedy government in their telescopic sights.

The revolution manipulates the mass media and takes advantage of the latest social media technology to communicate with the put upon masses. In London, the Costa Coffee and Starbucks outlets in and around St Pauls and Paternoster Square, symbols of the new world order, have never been busier serving wi-fi with their soya lattes and white chocolate mochas ‘to go’.

Speaking on national radio today, one of the organisers drew parallels between their struggle and that of the Suffragettes, a revolutionary movement that won the vote for women, and which he probably read about at university.  When reminded by the interviewer that the Suffragettes used violence occasionally, he cited Ghandi and Martin Luther King as inspirations too.

Two weeks in, and Occupy London has thrust a rapier into the very heart of capitalism: the dean, canon chancellor and a part time chaplain at St Pauls have resigned in shame.  The corrupt millionaire bankers, stockbrokers and traders will soon be on their knees, rueing the day they celebrated the return of multi-million pound bonus cheques.

Yes, of course I’m being tongue-in-cheek. I might have been less so had these modern revolutionaries made their disruptive voices heard during the pretty obvious excesses that characterised the unsustainable economic bubble of the late 1990s and mid noughties.

Failing that, they could have found a more receptive ear and active audience as long as three years ago.  They want to raise awareness of all that’s wrong with today’s capitalist system.  The thing is, we already know that.

It has been abundantly clear ever since the implosion of Northern Rock and Lehman Brothers in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Even bankers today readily accept that the global financial system has become morally and economically bankrupt.

Nor has it been a secret for a while now, thanks to the MP expenses scandal and the true horror of government borrowing and sovereign debt, that our political leaders have less honesty and integrity than their electioneering posters and public proclamations would have had us believe.

Successful campaigning needs the right message delivered at the right time. While the ‘Occupy’ message that all is not well has resonance in today’s troubled economy, I think the campaigns’ timing is wrong.  We already get it.  They’ve missed the boat, that defining moment that any social movement means to be truly successful.  That’s why they have not found, and are unlikely to find, mass support among people more concerned about paying their bills.

I might also have had more sympathy had the revolution not got a little carried away in aligning itself with other, more fundamental struggles around the world.

The movement, it’s organisers say, is modelled on the Arab Spring, a largely armed struggle that has spread across the Arab world against autocratic regimes that, for generations, have imprisoned and murdered people who publicly opposed the dictators that kept millions of people in abject poverty.

Thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters have given their lives to help enact regime change and perhaps democracy one day in Libya, and more will sadly but invariably pay the same price in the on-going uprising in Syria.

Capitalism, whilst certainly imperfect, has given the western world technology, medicine, social care, transportation, and a quality of life and opportunity that would be impossible under any other social order. One hopes and expects that the middle class demonstrators will never have to pay the ultimate sacrifice paid daily in the Middle East today to achieve their campaign goals.

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THE WRITE SPEECH

In the hands of the right performer, there are few more powerful tools in the communicator’s arsenal than the set piece or keynote speech.

The house lights dim and the spotlight shines raw credibility and status on the speaker, while the PA system adds weight and tone to their voice.  The speaker is then free to excite, amuse and engage the audience, a thought leader sharing wisdom, experience and insight, all wrapped up in highly targeted key messages.

The keynote address also sets the tone and context for the various conversations that will take place as soon as the applause has faded and the speaker has left the stage and coffee is served.  Journalists will rush to file stories on what the speaker said and employees, if that’s the audience, will come away committed to doing things differently just as soon as they get back to the workplace.

Great speeches do create profound emotional connections between the speaker and the audience. They are a platform to deliver messages that live long in the memory, build brands and help differentiate businesses.  They can also build the profile and enhance the earnings potential of the speaker that delivered them.

But it all starts with the right script.  Here’s a few speech-writing lessons I’ve learnt over the years.

  • Write in the shortest sentences possible. Shorter is punchier. It’s easier to say.  Easier to remember.  More memorable.  If your sentences are too long, no matter how well you’ve written them, even the most polished and seasoned speaker will get lost among the clauses, come under attack from a shortage of breath and find it impossible to get to the next sentence without the aid of a map.
  • Only use words and phrases that the speaker uses in everyday speech.  Writing in management speak or corporate gobbledygook will make the speaker sound like the average CFO reading from a balance sheet at a financial results presentation.  Trust me. No one wants that.
  • The first sentence is critical. It should demand the audience’s attention, make them sit up straight and set the tone for what follows. So best avoid a first sentence that starts with:  “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen …”
  • The script should surprise.  Don’t be afraid to say something new or controversial.  As an audience member, there’s nothing worse than sitting through 30 minutes of what we already know.  Our minds turn to regret for the money we’re paying for car parking while hearing it all again.
  • Know the person you’re writing the speech for well.  It’s difficult to write a personality into a speech for a speaker that doesn’t possess one.  So avoid writing jokes for someone with no feel for comic delivery, and stay clear of big emotional closes for any speakers who suffer from premature lumps in their own throats while delivering them.
  • Refuse point blank to allow the use of slides:  Nothing kills the passion of a rip roaring, rousing speech faster than a bar graph and bullet points popping up on the large screen behind the lectern.
  • Avoid maths class.  The occasional numerical fact adds weight, power and credibility to a key point.  But resist the temptation to overdo it – too many numbers and the speaker will get confused and the audience will need calculators to keep up.
  • Don’t try to be smarter than the speaker you’re writing for.  If the speaker doesn’t really understand every word of the speech you’ve written for them, it’s unlikely their audience will either.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.  It’s great to rehearse the speech in front of a mirror and supportive friends and family as often as possible in advance of the big day.  You’ll be perfectly placed to hammer home your key points. You’ll be the master of every punch line and extract the last ounce of emotion from every pregnant pause. But you’re the writer. The speaker needs to do that.
  • Avoid just in time delivery.  See point above.  You’re doing the speaker no favours by turning up at the last minute with the perfect speech.  Unless you’ve gone through it with the speaker at least five times during production, you better be prepared to get on stage and deliver the speech yourself.
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