Muscle memory

It was fascinating to analyse a #MelindaGates interview on BBC Radio with public health advocates on our  recent ’20secondsmedia’ media training & public speaking course in Amsterdam. Among the many elements that became abundantly clear in her performance was the power of muscle memory. She had, of course, worked hard overtime to remember key messages. Hence, during a challenging series of exchanges with the interviewer,  who tried on many occasions to induce her to criticise D Trump and the Pope, she never wavered. She kept bridging back into her key messages and hammered them home. It was a performance that drew heavily on instinct; those key messages about child mortality absorbed in her muscle memory. It shows that effective, polished public speaking, like high-level musical and sports performance, is the work of many years of hard work. You drill, and drill, techniques and allow them to seep into the memory. Even if your mind goes blank, the muscle memory will rarely let you down.

Comments ( 4 )
  • Karl Schembri says:

    Hi Mervyn, is there any link to the full interview or any way I can get a recording? Really interested in listening to this now and using for training with colleagues.
    Keep up the great blog you have. Love reading your tips and wise words.
    Warm regards,

    • Mervyn Fletcher says:


      Hi. How are you? Of course, a truncated transcript I made of part of the interview from Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme is below. I transcribed the section where Melinda Gates was pushed to criticise the Catholic Church. She ‘bridged’ very well. Her opening response is also, classic message delivery.

      I believe the actual interview is no longer online.

      Would you mind retweeting my blog (it’s from 20secondsmedia), please, to your followers and if you hear of any organisation/person wanting media training and crisis comms training, please bear us in mind.

      As ever, best wishes,


      Melinda Gates interviewed on BBC domestic Radio 4, Today Programme, 11 July 2017

      Interviewer(I): A family planning summit in London is going to hear about an extraordinary gift today of 375 million USD from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to add to the efforts from governments, including the British government, for contraception to be provided to more women in the world’s poorest countries. The thinking being pretty simple; the more contraception that is available, the more likely it is that girls become educated, are powerful and life for everyone improves, it there are those who are not so sure. Donald Trump is cutting his aid in this area and the Catholic Church is still opposed to contraception, and there are critics too of the aid industry; the culture of this giving. Melinda Gates, co-chair if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is here. Good morning to you. Let’s start with your plan….

      Melinda Gates (MG): This is an extra sum of money because Bill and I see that what we are doing is working and we need to invest in adolescence. We have 1.2 billion who are coming of age in the developing world. One of the things that young girls die from,… out of five die in pregnancy; they are having babies too young and too often. If we do the right things for just a few pounds: we offer them contraception, we teach them about their body, and offer them contraceptives, they take them up and guess what? They space the births of their children and it starts to lift their own families out of poverty, so it is one of the greatest anti-poverty innovations that we have, and it’s why we are making more of an investment alongside the British government.

      [spool on to 4’23”]

      I: Do you see any change of thinking in the Catholic Church and with this relatively new Pope because when he began there were suggestions, particularly with regard to contraception to prevent disease, people thought it might go a step further and it has ‘t, has it?
      MG: We work very extensively with the Catholic Church and I have had many discussions with them as we have a shared mission around social justice and anti-poverty and I think what this Pope sees is if we are going to lift people out of poverty you have to do the right thing for women and so we have agreed to disagree.

      I: But that’s a big problem for you….culturally the difference that could be made if there was a change at the top of the Catholic Church would be huge. Let’s be blunt about it…..
      MG: Hasn’t made that change yet but I think these things take time. This is an institution that does revisit…’s been a while since they revisited this topic but I am still optimistic they might over time.

      I: There has been talk of him having a secret commission on this… there a sense that there should be a change in mood?
      MG: I think the Pope sees poverty for what it really is. He’s lived with impoverished families, he’s lived with women who are impoverished, so I think there is a rift inside the Catholic Church. ….one out of five girls dies in childbirth in the developing world..then we should do the right thing and do what many catholic women do in the US and the UK and use modern tools.

  • Karl Schembri says:

    Thanks for this Mervyn.
    I did manage to find a short part of what you transcribed in this video clip:

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