What's the shelf life of an ex-DG of the BBC? About five minutes, if a recent performance by the newly ennobled John Birt is anything to go by. Granted, his audience of more than 400 of the top people in communications and PR was daunting, but Lord Birt just hadn't done his homework. He opened by saying this was the first major speech he'd made since leaving the BBC. We were agog.
He started in a curious St Vitus's dance sort of way, jigging about behind the lectern, moving his hands in an irritatingly random manner. He was clearly nervous; obviously, five months wasn't long enough to write a meaningful speech. What platitudes. Telling the UK's top communications directors that they faced a 'complex environment' in which it was important to 'manage the relationship with consumers' - whom he insisted on calling consoomers - is on a par with Kevin Keegan telling a disappointed nation that the England team needs to develop its basic footballing skills. At one stage we thought we were at a performance of The Good Old Days as he talked of how he had had to deal with a 'panoply of proliferating public bodies'.
And then the script ran out. So he ad-libbed ... hopelessly. There followed 20 minutes of waffle in which he spelled out a seven-point plan for people in marketing and communications. An exit poll established that it was nothing more than glimpses of the blinding obvious. Maybe things would buck up in the Q&A session. They didn't. Answers were long-winded and rambling. Apparently, Lord Birt aspires to become a regular on the speaking circuit. He will need serious reconstruction.
Key moment: There wasn't one.
Key lesson: Don't insult your audience by telling them what they already know.
Silver tongue or foot in mouth?