It was more than thirty years ago, sitting in a media box at the United Nations marvelling at the American President Ronald Reagan's ability to speak what appeared to be off the cuff for more than half an hour to the massive auditorium that housed the General Assembly.

The former Hollywood actor never missed a beat, looking from one side to another, gesticulating as he outlined his country's place in the world.

It was masterful how he appeared to unconsciously shuffle the pages on the podium in front of him, while batting an eyelid and charming the crowd.

It was only on squinty eyed, closer inspection that two graphite sticks could be observed on either side of the stage, holding up two virtually invisible perspex screens.

It wasn't a masterful, off the cuff performance at all, my illusions were shattered, he was reading off an autocue, where the words in the speech rolled down in front of him.

Not even television news readers in this country had them, now everyone who speaks to an audience can have one, providing the event is swanky enough.

Political leaders now never leave home without one, they all use them and that's a pity.


Rather than engaging their audience, they read a speech written by others, and that was the case with Bill English at a Wellington business lunch yesterday.

These days they make no attempt to hide the prompters and they don't fool anyone. They may give the appearance of looking at you but they're actually reading a script.

The closest English got to speaking off the cuff was when he was introduced by an Australian and told him that he might not know it but in this country the Prime Minister meets all new arrivals.

It got a laugh from those with short memories but it was a steal from John Key's appearance on the David Letterman Show when he was showing off about how small and informal God's own was.

That was the only laugh he got, although in fairness to him, it's hard to get even a giggle from a business audience when you're banging on about the welfare state and how you're going to help the have nots.

It's a pity because we're now getting a dose of wood, of politicians who are so carefully trained to read and not to relate, and that includes Andrew Little.

They're losing the ability to speak off bullet points, to think for themselves but more importantly to show they've got a sense of humour.

John Key did use the autocue but he would have been an operator's nightmare, frequently deviating from the script with his quirky sense of humour.

After years of reading words on a screen written by others, it was often said of Reagan that the President's brain was missing and our political leader should bear that in mind, if they still have one of their own that is.