Christopher Monckton’s speaking imperfections

My previous posting dealt with a very good speech by Lord Monckton, and I ended  with a commitment to return to him “very soon”. When someone has worked this hard on a skill he is evidently striving for perfection, so my way of paying homage is to deploy my finest nit-picking tweezers. At the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change, that took place in July of this year, Monckton delivered a keynote speech.

We join just as James Taylor leaves the podium after delivering an introduction that was deliberately over the top. I know this, because I have viewed much longer video material from which this was taken. To give you a flavour, Taylor began with, “AAAAND NOOOOW …” I’m sure you get the idea: unrestrained hilarity was promised. You may also notice that some members of the audience are climbing to their feet before he has even started. It is not given to many to receive standing ovations before their speeches. Monckton, it is fair to say, is among friends.

I mention all that in order to preface a stricture that is well established in showbiz… Do not believe your own publicity.

I shall add some rules of my own shortly, but first let me specifically address what I regard as Monckton’s key weakness. Having a natural flair for humour he has tasted the most seductive fruit known to speakers – it’s called laughter. His throw-away humour is good, and nearly always works. When it doesn’t work it doesn’t matter because he threw it away. Where he starts to fall apart is in trying to give comedy centre stage. That is an activity to be left exclusively to standup comedians, who had to go through an apprenticeship you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Here are some of my rules for humour, and he breaks all of them in the first thirteen and a half minutes of this speech.

  • Don’t repeat a gag: it’s never funny the second time.
  • Always keep humour subservient to your message.
  • With throw-away humour you maintain strength: when it becomes overt, humour begins to beg laughter; and a craving for baksheesh is inherently weak.
  • NEVER try to spoof a famous comedy sketch, least of all one from Monty Python.

It is at 13:30, or very shortly after, that this speech gets going. Humour, now relegated to secondary status, gets funnier and the speech gets very strong. There’s a clear moral. Avoid being seen to be trying to be funny. Make humour seem almost accidental.

One further little observation that is pertinent at 30:10 – instead of asking for a round of applause for yourself, learn some claptrap techniques.

I don’t suppose Monckton has received, for many years, so much criticism on his speaking. It’s his own fault: he shouldn’t be so good.


Christopher Monckton shows his workings

In March 2012 Christopher Monckton spoke at California State University in Bakersfield. His talk was entitled Fallacies about Global Warming.

In July, in a posting concerning a speech by Patrick Moore, I devoted my second paragraph to observing the puzzling detail that warmists (who claim to be championing The Science) seldom show much science, whereas sceptics (who the warmists claim to be anti-science) show abundant scientific data and workings to back up their contentions.  Earlier this month we looked at a speech by arch-warmist, Lord Deben, in which I defy you to find any science at all. Today let’s look at a speech by a very high-profile sceptic.

The gathering was hosted by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove whose introduction saves me having to labour the point I made the previous time Monckton was on this blog. Monckton is so formidably well prepared, well briefed and well researched that no warmist dares face him in debate. He has challenged Al Gore repeatedly, to be met with progressively lame excuses.

I suggest that you listen to Grove’s introduction twice, once to absorb what she has to say and again to watch Monckton while she is saying it. He never stops looking around the audience, and not just idly gazing but unobtrusively looking intently, summing up, evaluating, taking measure, analyzing that audience . The man is a pro.

Monckton begins speaking at 4:15. His opening is almost verbatim the one he used the previous time he was on this blog. I have no quarrel with that: if J.S.Bach could recycle good ideas it excuses the rest of us. Nevertheless I remain uneasy over the flaunting of his title.

I know why he does it. Thanks to politicians’ changing of the constitution of the House of Lords, he is no longer eligible to sit in the House. This has caused some of the Westminster mediocracy to claim that he is not a Lord. His passport gives the lie to that. He is a viscount by birth, and understandably enjoys waving that under the noses of the naysayers. Flaunting a title is faintly tacky. He knows this, and has clearly made a policy decision that the joy of cocking a snoot at snotty bureaucrats justifies a touch of tackiness, Not only does he flaunt his title in his opening he brands his slides with a coronet, and even sometimes the Parliamentary portcullis. I understand and sympathize, but I remain uneasy.

After some bits of fun at the beginning he gets down to cases at 6:15, and immediately he addresses one hugely important fact. There has been warming and we contributed to it. I know of no one who disputes that. The scepticism is in how much warming there has been, will be, how big our contribution, and therefore whether the recommended changes to our behaviour can reap any discernible benefit or will ruin the world’s economy to no purpose. There are other ancillary matters, but that is the essence.

Up come his graphs! He very skilfully handles them in language that is as straightforward and simple as possible. Those of us less numerate can still get a little addled at times, but stick with it: the really important bits are clear as crystal.

He delivers a surgical dismantling of the global warming scam, with all the workings you could possibly want. I have read quite a lot on the subject so most of it doesn’t surprise me. If you haven’t you could get angry. I part company with Monckton in one little detail. At 27:00 he suggests that climate scientists played their naughty games to confuse bureaucrats and politicians. I believe that those politicians and bureaucrats specifically commissioned those results from the scientists. Cui bono.

Now you know why Al Gore scurries away and hides at any suggestion of a debate with Monckton. He’d be ignominiously annihilated and he knows it.

Monckton is outstandingly good, but he’s not perfect. Anyone who works this hard at a skill wants to be perfect. Very soon – possibly in my next posting – I shall examine his imperfections.

Alex Salmond doesn’t need a comfort blanket.

I have not previously featured Alex Salmond on this blog. So it seemed to me that if I was ever going to do it this week would seem pertinent timing. Lest the reader regards it as significant, let me lay out my own prejudices concerning this week’s Scottish Independence Referendum.

I have an affection for the country so sense a pang at its possible loss, while realizing this is is absurd – whatever happens it will still be there. I am a fervent localist so it is logical that I should feel a little excited at people wanting more control over their own destiny, while hoping for their sake that Scotland doesn’t turn into a British version of North Korea. Those details aside, I am disinterested. Like all other inhabitants of the British Isles, outside Scotland, I have no vote on the matter; so disinterest is my officially imposed designation. I have viewed aghast the contemptible spectacle of the prime minister and other party leaders pathetically trying to outbid each other with offers of constitutional goody-bags to shore up the ‘No’ campaign, without a shred of mandate so to do, and I have sighed at how unpleasant the campaign has become. There: that just about covers it.

What about Salmond as a speaker? I have never before watched him. I noticed how, when he resigned as SNP leader in 2000 and picked up the reins again in 2004, the party’s fortunes seemed to be directly linked to whether or not he was leading it, so it would appear that the man has something – if only plausibility. Let’s have a look at his party conference speech earlier this year.

Like far too many speakers he has a comfort blanket made of paper on that lectern. It is entirely unnecessary. I have carefully monitored the times his face goes down, and almost never was there so much as a syllable that he could not have confidently uttered without the assistance of paper. Every time his face goes down he breaks eye-contact with his audience, and he does it about ten times a minute. In communication terms this is an expensive comfort blanket.

That aside, he is a very good communicator. The audience is his from the moment he starts. That is not too surprising: party leaders’ speeches seldom get greeted with stony faces and crossed arms, but this is not simply mindless fawning. Those people are really listening, and they are right to do so. It is pretty well crafted stuff.

Whoever wrote the speech loves anaphora. Two that I noted almost at random occurred at 14:25 and 29:22, and he also ends with an anaphoric tricolon. But details like that add cosmetic enhancement; they don’t make or break speeches.

The make/break ingredients are always the message and how it is structured. This speech is fairly good, though if he had dared spurn the paper (like all my trainees) he would have forced himself to structure it even more simply. KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid! Then he would have eliminated those few moments when the pace sagged. He would have been able to eyeball his audience throughout (it’s only half-an-hour), and turn the speech from very good to outstanding.

The speech failed my memorability test, but you will have to read my book to know what that is. Salmond would benefit from reading my book. Then he might take his thumb out of his mouth, throw away his comfort blanket and become a great speaker.

Ian Paisley with peace in his pockets

On 12 September – yesterday – the world bid its last goodbye to The Reverend and the Right Honourable The Lord Bannside PC, better known to the world as Ian Paisley

If you are looking for an Ian Paisley speech you instinctively reach for ear-plugs, because for years every time he was seen on television speaking to the public we saw something like this …

Yet every obituary in the broadcast media has had people stressing how in private he was a very quiet man. Indeed many years ago, at the height of the Northern Ireland troubles, I saw a TV documentary that strongly made that very point. Therefore I have chosen to reflect on the man with this, his House of Commons farewell speech. It was on 22 March, 2010, while the House of Commons was debating the transfer of policing and justice powers to North Ireland.


He is speaking with his hands in his pockets. From my earliest days training people in speaking I often persuaded men that speaking with your hands in your pockets can convey a desirable image of confidence, authority and sincerity, and also underlines that you are speaking without notes. (It doesn’t really work for women, not least because they seldom have pockets.)

Paisley doesn’t need the help of paper to drop a nice little anadiplosis into the first ten seconds; but it isn’t smart-alec figures of speech that mark this delivery. We have already started reading obituaries and tributes to the way he went from tub-thumping, mob-inciting ranting to emollient peacemaking, working with his enemies to bring and keep peace in North Ireland. This is my way of highlighting the emollience.

I can’t resist drawing attention to what he says at 1:27. Standing, as I said, with his hands in his pockets, he urges those with opposing views to keep their hands in their pockets. I like the reflected imagery.

It’s not in itself a brilliant speech. It goes on a little longer than it should: there were several places that he could well have stopped earlier. But it represents far more than it says, and I like to remember him this way.


Lord Deben insults the intelligence of his audience.

The Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin hosted a keynote speech in July 2014 by Lord Deben.  The IIEA’s own website tells us that his theme was ‘Energy and Climate Change’.

Having been in his audience on one occasion I can personally vouch that Deben is a skilled speaker. Let’s see how well he does on this occasion.

What sort of opening is this? It can most charitably be described as a stumbling-in. Within a very few seconds I have the impression that, his knowing his own adept capacity for motor-mouthing off the top of his head, he has barely given this speech any thought at all. He is going to have to do better than this with an audience of people who are not only intelligent but too busy to put up with being fed inconsequential burble for the next half-hour. I reckon he has worked out the same thing from the faces in front of him.  Why else would he direct so much of this early guff at the conference chairman beside him? Could it be that this is the nearest he can find to a comfort zone? I hope not, because the chairman doesn’t look overly impressed either.

Deben lards the burble with some rather lame flannel in an attempt to ingratiate himself, but I don’t think it’s working. We can see only the backs of the heads in the audience front row, but I find the angles of some of those heads a little ominous. The chairman is shooting some nervous glances at the front row also.

Five minutes in, and my hands are over my face. He has said nothing that could not have been covered in fifteen seconds. This is pitiful!

He then tells us that the UK Climate Change Committee, which he chairs, is independent. He proceeds patronizingly to explain and explain and explain, with helpful gestures, what independence means. If the members of this audience have IQs above room temperature, and I have every reason to suppose that they do, they already know better than he does what independence means. He seems to have a very strange idea of it, because he tells us he is so independent that he owed his appointment to ministerial patronage.

Next he lists (or rather doesn’t) the committee’s personnel. Deben surely knows the basic rule that proper nouns of all descriptions are hooks that retain the audience’s attention, yet where are the names of his committee members? From 8:16 till 8:45 he wriggles and squirms while trying to remember one of their names. He gives us several details about the gentleman in question, almost down to his inside leg measurement, but no name. An achingly long pause, punctuated by ‘ums’, ‘ers’ and screwed-up eyes staring into the middle distance tell us very eloquently that he has forgotten the name. He attempts to camouflage this appalling faux pas by then describing, but not naming, other committee members as if this was his intention all along. It doesn’t wash!  He has goofed, big time. There are numerous ways to remember such data, including writing them down for God’s sake, but he’s too bloody idle to do any of them.

That I fear is the pattern for the entire speech. He waffles around for half-an-hour with all sorts of ill-considered, misguided and badly expressed nonsense that says nothing and gets no one anywhere. The nearest he comes to any sort of message arrives with his peroration. At around the 26 minute mark he begins to make it very clear what anyone who has peered more than an inch below the surface of the matter already knew, namely that the climate change movement is not about science but politics. It is a device to edge us towards world government. The creed (the best word for it) is political and imperialist and very, very dangerous.

As for the quality of this as a piece of speech-making, what can I say? I see bad speeches by people who haven’t learned how, by people who have all manner of difficulties and problems, but this man can speak. As a result, this disgusts me.  He has insulted his audience. He should be thoroughly ashamed of himself.

Julian Assange is there – at the moment.

When a few days ago I posted a critique of a Douglas Murray speech at a debate, I rather committed myself to airing a speech that his opponent had made. As rumours are currently circulating that Julian Assange is proposing shortly to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London I thought I  would have a look at the speech, the notorious one that he delivered from an embassy window two years ago in August 2012.

I am reluctant to wade into the argument concerning the rights and wrongs of Wikileaks, its activities and existence, because I am terribly torn.  On the one hand I am fiercely in favour of free-speech, even (perhaps especially) when that speech is unpalatable; and on the other I recognize the points made so eloquently by Douglas Murray in that speech I covered a few days ago. One day I might sit myself down in a darkened room and try to think the thing through, but today I think I shall keep my rhetor hat on.

This speech is famous for that clever opening sentence. Rightly so.

The quality of the composition is impressive. I’d prefer him not to have written it, but shot it from the hip, because I know it would have gained added power; but I also know that he would point to the lists of names of people and countries whose support he needed to acknowledge. There are ways of addressing that problem.

Concerning what Assange describes, beginning at 0:35, I have none of the ambivalence described earlier. If there was an attempt by British authorities to invade the embassy, then shame on them. If he is making it up, then shame on him.

At 0:55 he begins a neat anadiplosis (“the world was watching”) which morphs into a pretty epistrophe.

I get a little uneasy at his sanctimonious upholding of the importance of the rule of law when this whole business has come about because of his breaking of laws. There are ways, without sanctimony, that he could thank those who assisted him.

Beginning at 3:00 he thanks a list of South American countries which he claims to have supported his asylum. It is long lists like this that you might claim require the use of paper. After all, if he hadn’t written down all these countries’ names he might have mentioned Argentina twice…

He turns his thanks to the people of the countries whose governments he claims to have persecuted him. Essentially he is playing to the crowd, That’s fair enough: the crowd is definitely his market. Nevertheless I sense an urge creeping up on me to doff my rhetor hat for a moment.

This audience, this crowd of fearless front-line commandos in the battle for free speech, I wonder whether they would be quite so accommodating if he were – say – upholding fracking as the answer to the world’s energy problems. Or might they be howling for him to be silenced?

Just a thought.

Douglas Murray vs. Julian Assange

On 9 April 2011 in Kensington Town Hall in London there was held a debate sponsored by the New Statesman. The motion was  “This house believes whistle-blowers make the world a safer place.” There were three speakers on each side of the argument, though in this post we shall be hearing from just two of them, one because it was his turn to speak and the other because he interrupted all the time. The speaker has appeared before on this blog. I shall try to seek out some interesting material from the intrrupter. If you are wondering why I have chosen now to look at some speaking from three and a half years ago you have not been following the news very closely.

Something that I try to remember to remind both trainees and myself when I am training is that they and I can watch their performances played back from video, and can express all the opinions we like, but ultimately the only judgement that matters is that of the audience. A speech is a product, an audience the market. The market is never wrong. It can be irrational, idiotic, imbecilic, but it can’t be wrong.

Murray begins with some relatively inconsequential backchat; but within 40 seconds, riding on the back of  something an opponent had said, he is into serious stuff (albeit with a joke attached). Listen closely to the silence in the market. Except for laughter the audience is very quiet indeed. This is the ultimate compliment.

The silence is caused not just by the weight of the message, but by the way Murray delivers it. His style tends to be very quiet, and he silences his audience that way. He is an habitual and expert practitioner of the 2-inches-from-my-nose school. This technique chooses not to go out to its audience but to bring it closer (this is all metaphorical, you understand). If you speak very quietly. distinctly and quite slowly you can, by force of will, make the focal point of even a large hall to form just two inches from your nose. If you pull that off (the technique, not your nose) it’s a glorious feeling. I have often thought that whoever coined the cliche, “audience in the palm of my hand”, must have been a 2-inches merchant. A word of warning: don’t do it all the time. Vary your style and pitch. Murray does.

Is it a mistake, or is Murray deliberately provoking disruption when he launches a protracted anaphoric sequence? At around 3:30, with the words, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing when …” he kicks off a series of questions which might claim to be rhetorical, but which cause Assange to charge the microphone to supply answers. Is Murray then deliberately stoking the heat when he denies the interjection?  – “No, no, no, you’ll have your chance later.” The pent-up quarrel becomes really rather entertaining. Both of the other opposing speakers likewise leap to their feet and Murray refuses their interjections also.

My opinion is that he might not have foreseen quite how much this would all bait Assange, but was delighted to play him like a trout when he saw the development.

The debate chairman eventually tries to release some of the steam from Assange, and some elements in the audience, by over-ruling Murray and allowing the interjection. There follows an exchange, and even quite a long period of the two speaking simultaneously. There is one critical difference of demeanour between them.  Murray is smiling: he is enjoying himself.

He stops smiling when again the floor is his alone. The subject matter is serious and he is not averse to introducing some drama to close. Characteristically his peroration owes its drama to quiet intensity rather than thunderous auxesis. He pairs his finish with his opening. He closes his circle. Full marks.