Speech of the Month, October 2021 - Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson successfully dealt with 'the ramble-man' this month. But could he have done it more politely?
There I was, pouring smoothie into a glass, when suddenly I jumped, causing the mango and guava gloop to coat the kitchen workshop. What made me jump, you’re wondering. Had the gardener pitched wearing a gorilla suit? Had a rodent scuttled across the tiles? No, the BBC presenter, Nick Robinson, had told Boris Johnson to ‘Stop speaking.’
Now, I’d never claim that deference is my middle name but, even for me, telling the Prime Minister to shut his trap is a brusqueness step too far. If the moment escaped you - maybe you breakfast with Zoe - then take a listen now.
In my view, Robinson was unnecessarily curt, but I happen to know he’s pretty good pals with George Osborne (remember him?) so maybe it was a case of ‘my friend’s enemy is my enemy too.’ However, the incident illustrates how difficult it can be to deal with a ramble-person.
Whether the person is rambling because they’re purposely deviating or because they’re not sure where they’re going and how they’re going to end, or because they’re just not very articulate, staying calm and stopping them effectively from wasting any more time is one of the toughest assertiveness tests. One I’ve often failed.
Yes, I’ve let them ramble on, completely aware that everyone else is getting frustrated with them - and, in turn, me because I’m supposed to be leading the session - rather than putting the brakes on because it feels impolite. But not always. And I’ve also seen others deal with the ramble-person very well. So here are the methods I think we should try to apply before becoming exasperated and barking ‘Stop talking!’
Set time constraints
Before you open any item on a meeting agenda or any section within a workshop, be very clear about how much time you’re going to give it. That way, if someone rambles on, it feels easy and polite to say, ‘John, I’m giving this item 20 minutes. You’ve been speaking for some time and you’ve made some helpful points, so I’m going to go to Vincent now.’
Some people are incapable of making a concise point. This causes knuckle-cracking frustration for everyone. If you find this is happening then intervene and attempt to make the point for them: ‘I think what you’re saying is that for plain white walls to look good they need to be stripped back, skimmed and sanded. Am I right?’
‘But surely this can’t be right?’ you’re thinking. ‘Isn’t it rude to interrupt?’ Well, it’s not best practice. But if you’re leading a meeting or a workshop then you’re responsible for ensuring that it meets its objective, and can that happen if some people are devouring time without adding much value?
As a rule, the person who’s leading a meeting or interview should be looking at the speaker. The listener controls the quality of the speaker’s speech by their non-verbal behaviour. So one way to make a ramble-person stop without saying anything is to dip your eye-contact. Remove your focus from them and look down at your notes or agenda, and you’ll soon find that many of them will trail off.
Granted, it’s only a fraction more polite than ‘Stop talking’ but it can be very effective.
If you have any other meeting menaces you’d like help with, then it might be worth checking out Take the Chair.
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