My speeches are very good on content and style but they are not at all relevant

After years of uncertainty about the exact status I enjoy in the world of public speaking, it is vaguely gratifying to know that I may now scientifically regard myself as "fairly satisfactory".

I owe this important discovery to a Dr K Parkin of Nottingham who has been kind enough to post me the results of an extensive evaluation carried out after my recent address to the British Association of Innovative Technology on the subject of "Personal Relationships in an Age of Information".

I'd have to say it was not one of my finest talks. Somehow or other I'd persuaded myself that I had an old talk on the same subject in my box file which I could simply update for the occasion. But when I went to look, I found I had two quite separate papers, one on "Personal Relationships" and one on "The Age of Information". As time was short, I had no alternative but to alternate pages from each pile, staple the lot together and trust to luck that I'd been able to come up with enough conjunctional phrases to cover any nasty non sequiturs.

There were a couple of awkward moments during the presentation. My sudden shift from the resolution of the Oedipus complex to the future of the mobile phone industry was jarring, and I should have anticipated that an audience of technologists would have been less than sympathetic to Reich's claims for his orgone box. But no one appeared to be dozing during my address and, although a few did leave during the short pause that occurred when the slide projector unexpectedly burst into flames, as far as I could tell from the platform not one of them was running.

There is, however, no escaping Dr Parkin's judgement. It's not as though it's a minority opinion. According to paragraph two of the report, 92 per cent of my audience contributed to the final evaluation (the other 8 per cent presumably managed to tunnel under the barbed wire before Parkin could reach them with his cattle prod). These respondents rated my talk on a questionnaire which asked them to assign a mark out of 100 to six separate dimensions: delivery, relevance, content, structure, humour and style. (No points were apparently available on this occasion for dress sense, haircut, or star sign.)

An addendum at the bottom of the report helpfully explains that these marks were then averaged and translated to a qualitative scale running from "very good" to "very poor", a process that led to my own placement in the "fairly satisfactory" category, four marks clear of "not very satisfactory" and only six marks short of the dizzy heights of "satisfactory".

I also learn from Dr Parkin's meticulous findings that my lowest average marks were for relevance, content and structure, and my highest for delivery, humour and style. There is some pleasure, I suppose, to be had from being so authoritatively informed that one is capable of standing still, speaking in a clear voice and remembering the punchline to a couple of old jokes, even if this is somewhat qualified by the additional news that everything one said was almost totally lacking in structure, content or relevance.

After very careful thought, I've decided to respond to Dr Parkin's report with a brief letter regretting that my talk was not better received but pointing out that at the time I was recovering from the news of the death of five members of my immediate family in a tragic road accident. I'll also enclose a cheque for £5 as a small refund on my fee. I'd like Parkin to know that those of us who are scientifically doomed to be only fairly satisfactory still have a sense of pride.

This article first appeared in the 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery