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The Speaker, BBC2, tonight and tomorrow 8pm

Posted on 7 April 2009 | 2:04pm

I’m out at a birthday dinner tonight, so will be spared the difficult choice between Champions League football and BBC 2’s new reality TV/elimination-contest programme, The Speaker.

Reality TV and elimination contest are two concepts usually enough on their own to make sure I don’t watch, but I hope I’m right in saying this one is a bit different.

For a start, it shows young people in a good light, and there is not a lot of that on modern, middle-aged produced TV. Second, it shows them engaging in a series of challenges related to communications in the broadest sense. People can dismiss all that as spin if they like, but the ability to communicate will be central to their future success and prosperity, not to mention their ability – the desire is clear enough in many of them – to change the world.

I don’t come on the scene until a few episodes in, when much of the whittling down has already been done, and I go through a Barack Obama speech with them to show some of the well-known speech-making techniques he uses so well. I’ve not seen the whole programme yet but I have seen a wonderful clip where you can see how utterly mesmerised these young people are – we were down to a handful by then – by watching Obama in action.

They also confessed to being humbled, and slightly panicked by the idea of trying to learn something from watching him. But learn they did, and I think it was noticeable how some of them improved in the days which followed.

I was mentor for one episode and one of the judges for the final. I can’t say I enjoyed the moment when I had to do The Speaker’s version of Alan Sugar’s ‘you’re fired’ to a departing speaker. But if you watch the series, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as the young people taking part did – as evidenced by how many of those eliminated along the way turned up for the final.

Ps – have vlogged on same subject. Up shortly. Also, if you haven’t seen it already, take a look at the trailer for the series in the archive.

  • Alina Palimaru

    Thank you AC for trying to project a better light on younger generations. Hopefully there are a lot of young girls in this show. Ever since the great Roman orators, the most revered public speakers have been men (with a few exceptions). It would be great to see young women emerge as models of communication, thus seeking success on merits other than their looks, slutty outfits and the like.

    I also share your view on the importance of communicating effectively as related to success and prosperity. Communication skills are part of one’s etiquette and confer credibility and respect in both personal and professional dealings. I speak from my experience. I do hope there will be a way for people outside the UK to see the series.

  • Ian.Eastwood

    Think I will watch the footy myself. Not a fan of this type of show, but I will record it.
    Anything that shows young people doing somthing other than getting a bad press must be better than most of the dross turned out e.g Big Brother typs shows UHG.

    There are many great young people around doing realy positive things, just look back to comic relef. But these are the ones that get swept aside when bad news prevails.

    As I find with most things, when a real expert shows what skill is involved in getting to the top of there field. I am in ore of there talants wishing I had the same dedication to be the best at what they do.

    Even if somtimes they turn out to be total anoraks!

  • Terry Evans

    I’ve already set my recorder for the football, but am interested to watch this. The art of public speaking can at times be mesmerizing if you have people as skilled as Obama. The other end of the scale of course being Ian Duncan Smith who I actually felt very sorry for because he was so obviously not comfortable doing it. I hope the programme is repeated as I’m working and my recorder only does one programme at a time. P.s Always loved John Prescott, rabble rousing speeches to end the Labour conference. He was magic at sending the conference off with renewed spirit.

  • jacqueline-Aundree Baxter

    anything that promotes the abiltity to speak in public is , I feel , a good thing. I have 3 lads in the state sector and after having attended 15 years worth of prizegiving speeches,I feel that this is an important and and under recognised area. I think that possibly the primary curriculum is attempting to address this, but in the meantime there are thousands of secondary and FE kids that are not being schooled in the art of public speaking. No wonder so many young people havent the confidence to politically engage. The debating society never thrived in the state sector.(to my knowledge :_) (happy to be corrected on this with examples of good practice).

  • Haroon (from the Speaker)

    Hello, remember me? I will never forgive you for what you did to me. Just joking… it was an interesting weekend.

  • Anne

    How extraordinary the young people in The Speaker are. Except they probably aren’t extra-ordinary at all. How sad that Haroon had to go. This sort of thing + The Choir (the programme where young people were energised to sing and did really well because their teacher was so enthusiastic and they worked very hard) are fantsatic for breaking down stereoptypes of young people and encouraging them to widen horizons and enjoy what there is. I couldn’t have selected one to leave. Rather you than me! I always end up crying!

  • Mike Rouse

    I made the mistake of putting your episode on iPlayer whilst getting on with some work – net result was not much work got done.