Category Archives: REHEARSAL WISDOM



This celebratory yell has been called the Siren Song of football, the world’s most popular sport. It originated in the early days of radio broadcast in Brazil.  There, it was known as ‘pelegrin de gol,’ meaning ‘danger of a goal.’ A warning call to listeners who may have strayed from the set. Today on television, goals around the world share the unmissable celebration. Apart from Britain- is this our so-called reserve, not evident on the terraces.

An article in the New York Times captured its essence.  “The cry of “goooool” is the exclamation point that captures a story’s heart-pumping passage, the announcer’s voice rising and falling harmoniously, and continuously whenever any team scores. If turned into a drawing, it would look like an arch. If it were a person, it would be the biggest guy in the room.”

It takes skill and lungs. To succeed, soccer broadcasters must know how to scream their own version of the long drawn-out ‘gooool’, often for over 30 seconds. Some practice, in much the same way that opera singers do, rehearsing before they go on stage. One famous Brazilian broadcaster compared the cry to a tenor’s high C and said, “there’s a big dose of artistry involved.” Another claimed, “It’s your crowning achievement, or your moment of defeat.”

Andres Cantor, perhaps today’s outstanding exponent, said: “I think we all have the same feel for the game, the same passion, the same love and we call it pretty much the same way.”

This shared feeling and passion is true of all good live broadcasters, across all sports. There may be no ‘siren song,’ but each sport will demand of their broadcaster levels of passion and deep understanding. In the early days of live television, when a few channels held a monopoly of viewers, Dan Maskell (“oh I say!”) was known as the ‘voice of tennis’, Sid Waddell for bringing darts to middle England (“They’ve got Shakespeare on Radio 2, but you can’t beat this!”) All knew David Colman, as the voice of BBC sport, his voice lending an extraordinary sense of occasion to any event, including major News bulletins.

In today’s multi-channel, multi-platform world, it is harder to stand out, but the good broadcaster can still be the voice to many. To achieve this, their own authentic voice, they need study, practice, and rehearsal.

Stuart Storey, a former voice of BBC Television athletics, learning his craft covering ten Olympics, has this advice for would be commentators. “On preparation, you can cut no corners. For example, you need to know all there is to know about each athlete on the starting line, (you will have less than 8 seconds talk for each as they wait for the starter’s pistol.) The commentator must decide which of the huge amount of information provided by the statisticians is relevant to each round of each event in a major Championship in particular.”

In team sports the commentator should learn all available data on the players of each team, as well as the substitutes who may come on to play a vital tactical role, even scoring a last-minute goal. “Expect the unexpected.” It’s what makes sport compelling and it’s what challenges the spontaneity of live commentary. It carries over to the venue.  Be ready to ‘fill in’ when the lighting fails or the television picture all of a sudden in the commentary position is no longer available. “Knowing how to switch from Television commentary to Radio is important as they are different skills. From letting the picture tell the story to describing every detail to create a picture in the mind of the listener is an art form.”

For the live commentator, Stuart’s overarching advice is this: “Say what the picture does not say” and do this with a few well-chosen words. And, when you talk, “use voice intonation and intensity, along with pace of delivery, to create atmosphere. The voice alone can let the viewer know how important a particular moment is.” His final advice is the dramatic use of … SILENCE. Know when to pause …  to let the action, do the talking.

In an interview in the Guardian, Laura Woods, one of the only women who covered the 2022 World Cup, said broadcasting might look simple but it’s not.  “It’s ‘brutally’ competitive.” She started out by making You Tube videos in her garage, ‘such brilliant practice… and confidence comes with practice, it really does.’ Her final words in the interview were eloquent and perceptive.

“The one thing I learned is that a listener or a viewer can all smell any inauthenticity, and I figured that out really quickly. It wasn’t that I wasn’t trying to be me; it was that I was struggling with the confidence bit. But eventually I kept doing it over, and over again and I got much more comfortable in my own skin. And that is the only thing you have got that no one else has, your own personality, your own way of doing things. It sounds like a cliche – just be yourself- but you really have to do that.”

She was not, however, called on to cry “Gooooooooool!


Two of the greatest orators of the last century were enemies. One wanted to create a Reich to last a thousand years. The other, to lift his people facing defeat. Both held surprisingly similar views on the power of oratory, of the spoken word.

Hitler in his autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, wrote :

I know that men are won over less by the written than by the spoken word, that every great movement on this earth owes its growth to great orators and not to great writers.”

Churchill, in his novel, Savrola, (the central character is a self-portrait) writes:

“Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world.”

Not surprisingly both spent years of their lives studying, preparing, and rehearsing oratory to ‘win’ over their very different audiences. The Germans to suspend all doubt, to follow the Fuhrer; the British to ‘never surrender.’

Hitler, unlike Churchill, was a natural orator, initially rousing fervour in the small beer halls of Munich. However, to fulfil his dream of converting mass audiences who would respond to his personal charisma, he would need to perform in huge arenas. This called for a different level of practice and rehearsal.

He studied Wagnerian opera stars, to emulate their command of a stage, and their dramatic gestures.  He understood his body language, his naked emotion, and sense of raw power was key to capturing his audience, more than his words.  Every facial expression was practiced with the help of a photographer, taking hundreds of thousand shots to identify the strongest, the most compelling gestures, the optimal body movements. He would then rehearse these endlessly to a mirror.

He wrote the speeches himself, often rewriting five times, working through the night. He would practice them out loud, as secretaries edited changes, from the always quiet opening to the screaming crescendo of (apparent or real?) rage.  He practiced the silences, the pauses, keeping the crowd waiting in suspense. He was ‘a rhetorical genius of not talking.’ Above all, he kept the messages simple.

He was a showman, and like today’s superstars on tour, his speeches were rehearsed and choreographed to extract maximum audience response. Audiences in their thousands, searchlight displays, dramatic stage entrances , heroic choreography, “I gradually transformed myself into a speaker for mass meetings [and] I became practiced in the pathos and the gestures which a great hall, with its thousands of people, demands.”

Did this rehearsal pay off? With 5000 speeches in ten years, Hitler turned a party with a mere 3% of the vote into the Government party.  In the words of Dr Joseph Goebbels “He rouses the tired and lazy, fires up the indifferent and the doubting, turns cowards into men and weaklings into heroes.”

Winston Churchill was not a natural orator, but he made a lifelong study of rhetoric and the art of public speaking. He read widely ranging across the ancient Greek classics to Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, William Gladstone, and Oliver Cromwell. He often saw his father, leader of the House of Commons and a renowned orator, in action.

Aged just 23 he wrote, but never published, a paper titled The Scaffolding of Rhetoric. It’s five principles still hold good. In summary: Correct diction. Use “the best possible word . . . short, homely words . . . so long as such words can fully express the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.” Rhythm. ‘Create a rhythmic flow of sounds with long, rolling, sonorous sentences and balanced phrases.’ Accumulation of argument, ‘leading the audience convincingly to the climax by a rapid succession of waves of sound and vivid pictures”. Analogy. “Apt analogies are among the most formidable weapons of the rhetorician.” Extravagance of language. “Some expression must be found that will represent all they are feeling.”

Putting these principles into practice was a challenge for Churchill. He suffered speech impediments of both a stammer and a lisp.  A throat specialist advised that only practice and perseverance would help.  He practised diligently, rehearsing aloud “The Spanish ships I cannot see since they are not in sight”  to stop stumbling over words starting with ‘s’. He spoke as often as possible, and even though the lisp persisted, he overcame his nervousness and inhibition.

He wrote all his own speeches, some 3000 of them in 55 years. Typically, he would do several handwritten drafts, before having them typed up in a manner that helped delivery, with breaks in sentences to indicate the deliberate pauses, or the changes in tempo and emphasis.  He rehearsed aloud, often in front of a mirror, practising every aspect of delivery, from tone and pace to body language and expression. As he practiced, he was always seeking ways to project his unique personality, his character and sense of purpose to best engage with his audience. In his words:

 ‘His ideas began to take the form of words, to group themselves into sentences; he murmured to himself, the rhythm of his own language swayed him; instinctively he alliterated. . . That was a point; could not tautology accentuate it? The sound would please their ears, the sense improve and stimulate their minds.

Did his rehearsal pay off?  He was awarded a Nobel Prize for his writings and ‘brilliant oratory.’ We did not surrender.





Ronald Regan, a Republican, was the 40th president of the United States. When he took office in 1981, he was the oldest to be elected at that time, serving two terms until 1989. Today, some will remember him as a onetime Hollywood actor who, like Arnold Schwarzenegger many years later, went on to be Governor of California.

Unlike Arnie, who was disqualified from standing,  having been born outside USA, he went on to become President.

Old news clips capture his genial smiling face, in conversation with close ally, Margaret Thatcher. Others show him with Mikhail Gorbachev, the rival with whom he paved the way to better relations with the USSR. In America,  In one memorable speech, these words resonated. “Tear down the wall, Mr Gorbachev!”

Together with Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, he is considered one the greatest presidential orators. He was known as “the Great Communicator.’

His life can be seen as one of constant rehearsal, readying him for his biggest performance role, that of President. His first job was on a local radio station where he learnt “to talk to your audience, not over their heads or through them. Don’t try to talk in a special language of broadcasting or even of politics, just use normal everyday words.” As an unscripted sport commentator, talking under pressure and off-the -cuff became second nature, something that would serve him well in his political life.

His success as a radio performer led to the call from Hollywood.  There he became an actor. A good one who honed his craft, rehearsing and starring in some seventy films. Playing a part became natural and, in all but one of his films, he played the ‘good guy’, not the villain.

The down to earth, humorous optimist persona, key to his political success, was consolidated. As a Captain during the war, he served in a wartime Motion Picture unit producing some 400 training films. He understood performance from both sides of the camera.

Having mastered radio and film, he moved into television, a medium that was increasingly outperforming its predecessors. then increasingly taking its place as the medium of influence.  In the fifties, he hosted one of the top-rated network shows, General Electric Theater, showcasing 235 plays over six years. This gave him invaluable experience of live broadcast. (Donald Trump, fifty years later, was to benefit from his years of experience hosting the American version of the Apprentice.)

A spin off from the television show was an annual 16 weeks-week tour of sponsor GE’s plants, delivering speeches to the workforce, sometimes as many as fourteen a day! With that level of practice, no wonder he made political speeches seem effortless.

Arguably no one first entered political life so well practiced, so comfortable in rehearsal, so confident in what worked for him. He instructed his script writers to stick to his template for a good speech- they were to be no longer than twenty minutes (TED Talks are 18 minutes) and follow the (classic) format “tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”  He felt deeply that a speech must take into account the audiences mood and guide their passions and emotions, while using the words of the common man. It was vital ‘to be honest in what you’re saying’ and ‘to be in touch with your audience.’

Carefully crafted scripts were subjected to rigorous rehearsal, where Regan would add stories, epithets and humorous anecdotes from his celebrated collection of personal ‘notes’, putting his personal stamp on the speech.  His ‘honeyed’ voice worked equally well in a fireside chat broadcast as in a major platform speech. He could ‘keep your attention reading from the phone book’, but his use of language, the timing, the easy delivery, and injections of humour made his performances compelling.

One of his earlier speeches,” A Time for Choosing,” is widely regarded as among the greatest of the twentieth century.

Aristotle wrote of ethos, logos and pathos as the three essential elements of persuasive speaking, the appeal from character, the appeals of reason and emotion. Regan was a master of all three, but it was his manner, his personality that so lifted his performances. A politician, he came across as non-political, an honest straight talking, ‘one of us.’ Reagan himself credited his political success to an empathy with ordinary Americans. To one reporter, who on the eve of his election in 1980, asked what people saw in him, Reagan replied: “Would you laugh if I told you that I think, maybe, they see themselves, and that I’m one of them? I’ve never been able to detach myself or think that I, somehow, am apart from them.”

One story captures the essence of his performing genius. In the 1984 presidential debate with his much younger rival Walter Mondale, he faced tough questions.  Was he getting too old for the job? Did he worry he might not have the necessary energy? With a gentle smile, and perfect comedic timing (undoubtedly rehearsed) he replied “No, I don’t, and I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Regan was a master of the rhetorical virtue; kairos. Your words  need to be suited to the moment of their speaking.

The audience, including Walter Mondale, burst into laughter.

This  was seen  as a defining moment leading to him winning the election.