Geeks Speak: Ben Goldacre on Bad Science

One great way to learn how to be a great technical speaker is to look at good speakers and learn from them. Here is a video from Ben Goldacre at the Pop!Tech 2010 conference:

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The first thing that jumps out at you when you see this talk is how fast he talks, it’s almost exhausting to watch. Talking fast can be used as a great way to show how passionate you are about a subject but it can be exhausting too, you need to give both yourself and the audience a break from the speed from time to time.

He doesn’t do this, he just keeps going because he’s not talking fast out of passion even though it’s a subject he is clearly passionate about, he’s talking fast because there’s a subject that he wants to talk about that he’s even more passionate about.

What was interesting about this talk was there was a clear dichotomy between what Ben imagined the audience’s expectations were and what he actually wanted to talk about. He tried to cater for both and squeezes two presentations into the one timeslot.

The blurb for the talk was:

Author of the Guardian’s weekly ”Bad Science” column and Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, British physician Ben Goldacre dismantles the questionable science behind an assortment of drug trials, court cases, and events of our time.

image: Kris Krüg, Pop!Tech

And he did give us a quick run through some of the quirky articles that he’s written – but at lightning speed. It was a pure stand-up comedy routine right down to the umms, ahhs and pauses for laughs,

Then at around 12 minutes he relaxes, the umms, ahhs and throwaway jokes stop and he looks much more comfortable, it is clear that this is the topic that he really wants to talk about. And because this is something that he is passionate about, because this is his personal story, it makes it more interesting to us as listeners, we’re drawn in by his experiences and we’ve completely forgotten about the rapid comedy routine that was the first half of his presentation.

This is what the whole presentation should have been about.

2 comments to “Geeks Speak: Ben Goldacre on Bad Science”
  1. Hi Dermot,
    Reading your last line, and having seen this performance, I don’t agree with what you’re stating. The force of his message, his true passion, the only thing he wants to get across, is actually screaming at us because of the huge difference in energy, tempo etc.
    It feels as if the first part is the buildup to the final message. And that feels good. I love this way of presenting.

    • Sandra, Brilliant.
      This is the best bit about speaking, you’re not speaking to a group of clones, what might excite one person will bore another and thus we as speakers are faced with the challenge to connect and relate to every single individual in the way that each needs to understand and believe in your message. In this case Ben has connected with you and you “get it”, whereas I like both halves but I’m not convinced of the whole, I’d be curious to see how he connects to other viewers/listeners.

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