Genius makes complex issues sound simple
"Can you imagine someone who has never studied journalism excelling in the field and beating all the professionals?" Li Xiguang asked rhetorically, when prompted to comment on Zhao Qizheng as a public speaker.
Li, director of the Centre for International Communications, Tsinghua University, is familiar with Zhao's speech style. In fact, Li has been using his speeches as teaching materials.
"People are impressed by Zhao's open and dare-to-speak-out attitude," he continued, "but one must remember that he is a senior government official and what he says never wavers from the government standpoint. It is how he presents his views that makes him stand out and win applause."
In Li's opinion, Zhao Qizheng thinks and speaks like a journalist. "He is good at visual imagery and telling stories. I remember he once mentioned that a genius is someone who makes complicated things simple. He himself obviously is a good example."
Professor Li says Zhao always relies on things that happen around us to illustrate the big points. He cited the time when Zhao was asked by a Japanese talkshow host to comment on a leader of a foreign country. Instead of "No comment," Zhao told of an incident that he experienced firsthand while he was vice-mayor of Shanghai and shed light on the topic, albeit subtly, which is considered taboo by many people.
Not every official has the talent to speak like Zhao, Li admitted. "That's why the training of government spokespersons is so important."
A pilot programme was commissioned by the SCIO and conducted by Professor Li's centre for that purpose. Since 2001, it has trained 5,000 people of ministerial and provincial level.
"Many cadres carry the misnotion that only theory has weight. They don't realize the power of stories. They think it's kiddie stuff. This is ignorance as a result of underestimating the influence of the media," Li said.
Li added that "stories" do not mean fabrications. They are still facts. Unfortunately, many in China look down on this kind of skill. They tend to give up "stories" and "details" for concepts that are hollow and epithets that sound pompous. "They don't realize that when they are pontificating, they are actually losing ground and losing audiences," he said.
Coming back to Zhao Qizheng as a public speaker, Li Xiguang has nothing but praise: "They say good journalists are born, not trained. Good speakers are the same. I'm not implying Zhao does not work hard at his speeches, but there's no doubt he has a natural gift."
(China Daily 05/16/2005 page3)