Brainfood: Speaking Out - Mikhail Gorbachev, Last President of the Soviet Union, Nobel Laureate

I now know why Russians appear glum - they have to sit through endless speeches by their leaders. Addressing business delegates at the Leaders in London conference, Mikhail Gorbachev made us feel like members of the Soviet praesidium settling in for a long session. First, we were treated to a triumphalist video of people he has met, from Reagan to Thatcher, and honours he has received, including the Nobel Prize and Time Magazine's Man of the Decade award. Then he appeared. At 74, Gorby still looks good - tanned and sturdy - but he's unsmiling and seems a sad old teddy bear.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The audience were hoping for insights they could apply in their businesses.

We'd have loved insider stuff from what was once the most secretive regime in the world. What we got was a ramble down memory lane, interminable observations on the nature of mainly political leadership and a sprinkling of self-justification... 'In a global world, we can no longer use old methods'; 'ninety per cent of all the world's discoveries were made in the 20th century - who knows what the 21st century will bring'; 'people blame me for the break-up of the Soviet Union, but that was down to Yeltsin. Perestroika wasn't meant to be like that'.

We wanted more, but not for the right reasons. It didn't help that the 55-minute speech was translated by the hapless Pavel, who imbued the speech with all the savour of a plate of cold borscht.

Key moment: He recalled advising Thatcher: 'Margaret, open the windows and look out. The world has changed!'

Key lesson: Even world leaders must give their audience 'news they can use'.

Foot in mouth?...

A visiting professor of business communications at Southampton University, Khalid Aziz chairs the Aziz Corporation (khalid@azizcorp.com).

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