Professor Raymond Tallis talking at Leeds Salon

According to the blurb I was emailed by Leeds Salon, he’s one of the world’s top polymaths – philosopher, poet, novelist, clinical scientist.. the list went on and on. Basically, he’s clever. Before he started the formal part of his presentation, he warned us that when he gets excited, the rapidity of his speaking increases significantly. Oh boy, I do like to see a presenter get excited!

Then he launched into his er, script. Which he hadn’t bothered to memorise. So he kept his head down as he read every word of his essay from the printed out pages piled on the lectern. He hadn’t even bothered to familiarise himself with the spoken delivery of the text either as he frequently tripped up over the convoluted sentence structure.

He did have some slides to accompany his script though. Ah, no, wait a minute, they were largely slides of the dense text he was reading, sometimes verbatim, sometimes not. This made for a distracting, ‘spot the difference‘ game and I found myself wandering from his argument. You see, Mr Tallis may be a genius in many disciplines, but when it comes to the art of presentation, he’s a simpleton.

He is predominantly a writer and as any writer should know, ‘writing’ is not speech. It is the difference between fantasising about sex and actually performing sex; different organs are used. And as he progressed in his recitation, my tumescent interest slowly drooped. If this was him being excited, boy, I’d hate to see him when he’s feeling off colour.

One of his complaints, highlighted in his diatribe, was that interest in knowledge for its own sake was waning during these modern times in the general population. Well, on the evidence of his presentation it was easy to see why. Knowledge presented in this manner is about as interesting as reading the UK’s Twitter stream during the broadcast of an x-factor episode. When today’s youth have wifi connected video games that engage them totally at all emotional levels, the choice between searching out fascinating knowledge in a hit and miss fashion and being engrossed in a virtual world is a pretty simple one. Maybe someone should invent a philosophy video game that asked youth how we should live and forced them to make moral decisions. That might get them engaged in the pursuit of knowledge.

The purpose of a live presentation is to persuade the audience to do something differently – even if it is to think about something differently. If you want to persuade someone, you need to engage with them, make eye contact and display some passionate belief in your message. Mr Tallis read from his script. I can read a script from my computer screen – just send me the sodding pdf. What was the point of him being there?

It was mentioned by Mr Tallis in his preamble, that he and Michele Ledda, the host for the evening, had a brilliant conversation in the pub beforehand and he hoped his impending presentation was a fraction as good. Clearly the main event happened in the pub because nothing sparked when I was listening. Why was that? Maybe it was because Mr Tallis wasn’t reading from a prepared script when he was in the pub, maybe it’s because he and Michele engaged with one another in a natural and spontaneous way.

On his entry into the building, Mr Tallis wore a striking, bright red felt hat with a black band, so he clearly acknowledges the need for good presentation in his wardrobe. Why then, does he stop when he closes the wardrobe door? Is he unable to extend the metaphor into public speaking?

He did manage to change my attitude though in one area that evening. In the Q & A that followed his presentation, polite exchanges were made about his argument. I resolved henceforth to make it my mission to criticise publicly any presentation that falls way short of the respect I am due for giving up my valuable time and attention to listen to it.

You have been warned.

I’m also going to get me one of those bright red felt hats.

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