Palin’s audience in the palm of her hand

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...

The phrase has worn paper-thin with over-use but, today, talking eloquently in public is one of the skills that appears to have fallen by the wayside.

In America there has been some unseemly rejoicing and japery following evidence of Sarah Palin’s aide memoire – prompts scribbled on to the palm of her hand for a Q and A session.

The words “energy” “budget cuts” and “lift American spirit” were scrawled there. “Budget” had been crossed out and the word “tax” inserted. She has been dubbed “hillbilly palm pilot” and is said to have used a “palm-o-prompter”.

Not since 1971 – my O level year – have I spared a thought for secretive cribs. I was so tempted to write out some quotes from Julius Caesar, that year’s Shakespeare text, on my arm before venturing into the examinations hall. But I resisted and ended up with the only ones I could remember. Not surprisingly these were: “Et tu Brute, then fall Caesar” and “Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears”. Neither was relevant to the question but it showed willing. At least my mediocre results were achieved all by myself, without resort to chicanery.

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In those days, debating was firmly part of the school curriculum and we were all encouraged to develop a confident manner in public address. Pupils were also invited to speak at the daily assemblies. A very left wing friend took advantage of the opportunity to present the case for Jesus being a capitalist based on the fact He urged people to invest their money.

My one foray into debating was to (unsuccessfully) support the motion that “This house believes Esperanto should be the official international language of the world.” Imagine having to do that without Google.

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Are the days of great oratory gone? Winston Churchill, surely the most impressive speaker of the last century is said to have spent an hour crafting each minute of his stirring rhetoric, delivered to the nation with the help of notes, even though he is said to have committed much of it to memory.

Notes are a good solid way to help yourself along. If Churchill had written the words “beaches”, “landing grounds”, “fields & streets” and “hills” on to his starched cuff for his uplifting “We shall fight” speech, it would have looked a little furtive.

Today, of course, many top politicians have their addresses crafted for them by speech-writers while their soundbites are often spun for them.

No doubt hugging himself with glee at Palin’s embarrassment, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs conducted a conference with a shopping list on his hand that read “eggs, milk, bread” with “bread” crossed our and the words “hope” and “change” added.

Who needs an i-pad when you’ve got a palm?

If you’re going to be caught ink-handed then, in the best Oscar Wilde tradition, it might as well be for something scandalous. I’m going with “suspender belt”, “body chocolate” and “Fifi”.

Now there are the notes of a 2012 presidential frontrunner.

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