Brain Food: Speaking out - Sir Derek Higgs, Chairman, Alliance & Leicester

He seems a nice guy, but Sir Derek Higgs is the most irritating speaker I've ever watched. He gave the keynote speech to the London Human Resource Group - HR professionals gathered for 'Comply and Prosper', a seminar about managing the people risk associated with compliance regulation. Who better than Sir Derek to kick things off? Appointed by the Chancellor in 2002 to look into corporate governance, he wrote the Higgs Code, which has helped to prise excess non-executive appointments out the hands of the few.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Thus his opener, 'I'm not sure why I'm here', was misplaced. We all knew why. Then, after a joke about an Englishman, a Frenchman and a German, he meandered into his subject, 'Why prudent governance makes business sense', and went on like a lazy river into the hinterland of his experience.

This speech was devoid of preparation, with more 'ers and ums' than a first-time cable TV presenter. 'It's all about good management, really.' Really? The concept of comply and prosper was, he felt, 'intuitively correct'. Who could disagree? Sir Derek doesn't like opening his mouth, so was hard to follow.

He gave little for the audience to get their teeth into until he quoted from some McKinsey studies and talked about mispricing of risk. An accountant by training and a banker nearly all his working life, he has clearly done well - but not by public speaking. Here he needs help.

Key moment: When McKinsey used 50 measures of good governance on the FTSE 350, the top 20 compliers outperformed the bottom 20 by 32%.

Key lesson: If you're to give a keynote speech, don't just turn up and wing it, no matter how august your reputation.

Silver tongue or 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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