The Winnipeg Free Press ran an interesting article yesterday about a Queens University professor’s efforts to developÂ “spin detecting” software. The professor, David Skillicorn, is working on software tools that will detect ‘spin’ by measuring the level of political rhetoric.
Ultimately, Skillicorn says he wants to useÂ the tool toÂ detectÂ terrorists and other nefarious people who are trying to hide their true goals from the rest of us. In the meantime, he’s testing it on politicians such as StephenÂ Harper, John McCain, Hillary Clinton andÂ Barack Obama.Â Of those three, Harper scores the lowest on the ‘spin-o-meter’ because of his propensity to useÂ short, first person direct sentences.Â McCain’s famous straight talk also scores well. Clinton rates in the middle and Obama is rated as having the highest level of rhetoric.
Funny then, that Harper is almost universally cited in Canadian media circles as untrustworthy and Obama is credited by much of the United States as being nothing short ofÂ the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.
This tells meÂ that speech writing is only one part of the equation when it comes to generating credibility and trust. Speechmaking is equally (or even more) important. Keep this in mind whenever you’re getting ready to give a big speech or if you’re just preparing for an interview. The best presentations are practiced over and over again before the speaker takes the stage or the cameras are turned on.
Skillicorn’s ‘spin-o-meter’ also tells me just how poorly he (and many others) regard rhetoric. Rhetorical tools improve communication, they don’t impair it. I wonder, for instance, just how well Lincoln’s Gettysburg address would score in Skillicorn’s software. I suspect it would rate very poorly. What a shame. If only Skillicorn could develop tools to detect sophistry andÂ emptyÂ promises, then he’d be on to something.