Robert Carter frustrates with brilliance.

The Heartland Institute hosted ICCC9 – the ninth International Conference on Climate Change – in Las Vegas from 7–9 July 2014. On 8 July, Prof.Robert Carter delivered a talk entitled Why NIPCC Matters.

As far as I am concerned, NIPCC matters because it shows its workings. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you didn’t read my previous posting.

In my late sixties, I still have a full head of hair. Sometimes I wonder why. Too often I am faced with something that fills me with hair-tearing frustration. This brilliant speech is just such an example.

It is persuasively, authoritatively and articulately argued. He backs up his arguments with chapter and verse. He has structured it all around a beautifully conceived narrative theme of pieces of legendary art, ranging from Salvador Dali to Antony Gormley. He delivers it all with a voice that is clear, expressive and confident. As far as I can establish, he has no paper on that lectern. And yet…

Well, just look at that ‘still’ from the video! That picture shows you two of the three things that have me writhing. In that previous paragraph I very carefully implied – but did not say – that he has no script. He does have a script.

It’s on his bloody slides! 

What is worse he has no slave screen in front of him; so he has to turn away from the audience in order to read all those bloody words off the bloody slides on the bloody wall behind him. Ye Gods!

And the missing thing? – the other irritant that causes me to writhe, the third one that the picture doesn’t show? He is popping. Every so often an explosion detonates as he speaks directly into the microphone. It almost makes me want him to turn his head back towards the wall. And as if that weren’t enough, a hand periodically collides with the microphone to make a still louder noise.

Let us be clear here, and give credit where it is due. This is a brilliant and important speech, delivered by a man who oozes learning, sincerity, charisma and a wealth of obvious speaking ability. The concept of using examples of art to illustrate points is elegant and inspired. The structure of the speech is somewhere between good and very good. The ending perhaps needed something more – and not the final crash from the microphone.

But the staging of this wonderful speech is an abomination! Any trainee of mine watching it would be in hysterics. They have all had paper torn from their hands and verbiage torn from their slides. I know some that have virtually sworn off slides altogether (though Carter definitely needs some slides, if only to show his pieces of art.) They have all experienced the liberation of facing nothing but their audience and breathing the oxygen of that connection.

Getting rid of the microphone problem is slightly more complicated. A clip-on radio mic would have removed the popping; but the unruly hands that sometimes hit the microphone are part of his ebullient personality. An ebullient personality is something you monkey with at your peril. I can’t come up with an answer to that at this distance.

Oh how I’d like an hour alone with him!

Patrick Moore – the climate realist

The Heartland Institute hosted ICCC9 – the ninth International Conference on Climate Change – in Las Vegas from 7 – 9 July 2014.

With a debate like the climate one I find my sympathies instinctively tending towards the side that shows its workings. I want to be able to take my own look at the data in question. Many years ago I noticed ( it was not hard) that whereas sceptics fell over themselves to cite chapter and verse to support their theories, alarmists tended to restrict themselves to unsubstantiated assertions and infantile name-calling (often aimed at anyone who dared protest that they weren’t showing their workings). Part of the name-calling involved the term ‘anti-science’. This was rather rich coming from those who were never prepared to engage in a debate on the science, preferring to hide behind the risible debate-killer “the science is settled”. At any rate I looked at the source data as hard as a non-scientist is able, and closely followed the debate from the standpoint of a rhetorician. I also followed the money. The alarmists’ assertions collapsed before my eyes. As far as I am concerned the game was up many years ago. The global warming movement has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with politics – and pretty questionable politics at that. With any friends who continue to espouse this dead hypothesis I no longer bother to argue: I merely invite them to look more closely.

Greenpeace’s most famous dropout, Patrick Moore, spoke at ICCC9 on 8 July.

I believe this is the first time on this blog that I have failed to attach to the first mention of the speaker’s name a hyperlink to biographical material. There is a good reason: nothing you can read will give you a more comprehensive overview of Patrick Moore’s environmental career than the beginning of this speech. Till 5:15 it is wall-to-wall ethos.

His slides during this section are purely wordless pictures, which is good, the words he speaks are scripted, which isn’t. He doesn’t seem to be reading from the lectern, so why do I believe it is scripted? It’s in the rhythm. The pauses and links between sentences are unnatural in their duration. Also it’s in the stumbles and self-corrections which have ‘script’ written all over them. He appears not to be reading, so he is reciting: he has learnt it. He did not need to. He is perfectly capable of speaking all of this spontaneously. For some reason he just does not dare. Reciting a learnt script is not true shooting from the hip: it doesn’t have the sparkle that so seduces audiences.

Then he turns to why he left Greenpeace and to the main message of his speech, the essential climate-realism that he preaches. Now – disastrously – his slides are smothered in verbiage. Watching the video of this speech, we can pause it to read it all; but the audience in the hall cannot do that. They can listen to him or they can read the slides, but not both. He has set up his slides in competition to himself. Why, in heaven’s name, do so many speakers make this mistake?

Curiously, just as the slides get submerged under words, Moore starts to sound spontaneous. Now I believe that he is shooting this from the hip.

At 8:35 he gets into a muddle over his slides, Things start coming up in the wrong order. This may not be his fault, but having too many slides is his fault.

I am not anti-slides: I am anti-words-on-slides. I know that in speeches like this speakers feel they need to give chapter and verse to back up what they are saying. They are right: look at my second paragraph above. Therefore consider something along the lines of …

The IPCC in their report said on page xxx, “///////////////”.  

You will find the precise quote and its context on page y in the conference program.

By all means show pictures and graphs, but wherever possible restrict your words to graph labels only. You will be astonished how liberating that is. The fewer slides you have the less chance there is for things to go wrong. A trainee of mine had to conduct an all-day workshop the day after attending my course. He later told me that during my course he was mentally pruning down his dozen slides. By the time we parted he was determined to use just two. In the event he didn’t use even those – or a script, or notes. He shot the entire day from the hip with no slides, and received ecstatic feedback.

There is absolutely no added credibility or emphasis in the audience’s being able to read the words you are speaking.

Back to Patrick Moore! This is a very good speech. From 10:36, just after the hiatus with the mixed up slides, he gets into his stride. His speaking is now spontaneous and impassioned, and his slides get much sparser with words. At that point he becomes, frankly, awesome. He knows his stuff inside out, and it pours out of him with all the authority which his 40 years of experience as an ecologist have generated.

Just compare this with Al Gore’s ghastly sci-fi film, An Inconvenient Truth. Go check the facts.

Go figure.

Alan Mendoza can speak, but doesn’t

The Cambridge Union Society, in June 2013, held a debate on the motion, This House Believes the Two State Solution is the Only Solution. In case there be any doubt, let me make it clear now that the two intended states to which the motion refers are Israel and Palestine. One of the speakers for the proposition was Alan Mendoza.

If you follow the hyperlink which I attached to Mendoza’s name you will see that he is “a frequent speaker at high-profile national and international events and conferences”. Yet, he can’t speak (or at least he almost doesn’t). He writes well, and reads his writing back reasonably well, but that is not speaking. Granted he is at least as good as most people who deliver speeches at “high profile national and international events and conferences”, but that merely supports what I have frequently observed, namely that when it comes to public speaking the world sets its bar pathetically low.

Close your eyes, and just listen to a little more than the first minute of his delivery, and you will hear him obviously shooting from the hip some jokey comments concerning the debate thus far; and then unmistakably you will hear him begin reading his script.  You can hear the change, because spoken English is quite different from written English. The content certainly becomes more meaty at that point, but the audience-engagement deflates appallingly.

It might be tempting to conclude from this that hip-shooting is fine for ribald dross, but when you get to the serious stuff you need to read it, even at the expense of a little audience-engagement. It is a widespread, almost universally held, fallacy. I have friends and acquaintances who – bless them – have solemnly made this assertion to me; but my trainees never do, because they have had it proved to them that this is nonsense.

As it happens, Mendoza elsewhere in this speech makes my point for me. He proves to us that he can shoot strong, meaty, data-rich stuff from the hip with more fluency, more conviction and much better audience-engagement than when he reads a script. That is why I chose this speech for this posting.

At 4:02, someone in the hall asks to intervene and Mendoza allows him. Afterwards, from 4:56 to 5:34, Mendoza clinically and compellingly unpicks the argument in the intervention – shooting entirely from the hip. Those 38 seconds show us how good this speech could have been had he learnt how to structure his material in order to shoot all of it from the hip.

He could do it, without losing any of the essential elegance of the wording. There is a pleasing little tricolon at 7:30 which could just as easily have been there. Sadly though, at 5:34 he returns to his wretched script and his audience engagement falls off a cliff.

I called it a wretched script. It is actually well written and would make a good read. But as a piece of speaking it is lousy. It is comparable in lousiness to most of the offerings you get at “high profile national and international events and conferences” with successions of ‘speakers’ reading drearily to each other.

We need to raise the bar.

Atifete Jahjaga rises above.

In March 2012 Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kozovo, delivered a speech at Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, USA.

The speech was streamed live on Dartmouth’s YouTube channel, which for us is significant for one particular reason. Usually when watching these videos we are eavesdropping. Here we are intended to be part of the audience.

There is a great deal wrong with the staging of this. Carol Folt, who introduces the guest, commits a series of errors.

  • Never applaud from the lectern. It may feel right, but it looks wrong and sounds worse when the microphone picks it up.
  • Never, while you are introducing, look round at the guest behind you. It looks awful and you go off mic.
  • Don’t put the guest there in the first place. She’s staring at your back, and anyway no one wants to be in view while being introduced.
  • Introducing in the second person – i.e. as if speaking to the guest – seems like a good idea till you try it. It is fraught with hazards which I would love to list here, but I have already devoted too much space to the introduction. However, before I leave the subject let me just say that I would have invited Madam President to wait in the wings till after the introduction, then enter to thunderous applause.

The above notwithstanding, Madam President was excellent throughout that introduction, standing still and dignified.  Furthermore, when before her speech she had to present an award to someone, you will notice that she knew better than to applaud from the lectern. She is a pro, as befits a Head of State.

The recipient of the award delivers a short address of thanks to her.  Because the presentation takes place in front of the lectern, he is off mic and we hear none of it.  The audience in the hall hears it: he gets a laugh from them at one point. Those responsible for staging this event should have been prepared for this eventuality. Remember, as I observed in my second paragraph, we viewers of this video were intended to be part of the audience.

Her speech begins in earnest at 9:37, and gives way to Q&A at 40:00

Though on this blog I regularly castigate speakers for reading their speeches from a script, and though everyone who has done a course with me is capable of speaking without script or notes, I do acknowledge in The Face & Tripod that there are some occasions when a script is inevitable and forgivable (and I think we can include foreign language speaking in that). I even give advice and hints for coping with the paper. Madam President appears to know all of them. I find myself mentally ticking each thing she does right. Someone has taught her well.

Given that Heads of State can never really push the envelope without generating a feeding frenzy from the press, this speech manages to avoid being too bland. There are periods of personal warmth and humour that shine through wonderfully. There is a charming section where she tells the student audience how much she enjoyed her time at university and how, when her presidential mandate is over, she plans – Cincinnatus-like – to return to teaching. She even shows her human side by mischievously offering to answer a few questions at the end despite having been told that this is normally not permitted.

We hear Madam President’s answers but not the questions. I think we can forgive the absence of a roaming mic for the audience, since Q&A was never intended to happen.

Otherwise the stage management that framed her performance was severely wanting in very many ways. Madam President rose above it by showing just the right balance of dignity and professionalism. Of its type this is really an excellent speech.

Peter Lovatt – cerebral terpsichore

I have a nephew, Dr Oliver Robinson, who lectures in Psychology and is the author of Development through Adulthood: An Integrative Sourcebook. He it was who alerted me to a wild TED talk by fellow psychologist, Peter Lovatt.

Lovatt is not your run-of-the-mill academic psychologist. His having been a dancer, and now doing research into the psychology of dance, his audience was in for a spot of exercise.

His hump shows through in his opening, which is a little clunky. He talks his way to his speaking position, which is good, but what he says is lame. “Amazing, amazing!” is red-coat talk, and too fluffy at this stage for this audience. Worse is that he devotes half a minute to telling us what he is not going to talk about – a classic error. I know why: this is an attempt to establish his ethos, but he needs to do that another way.

He asks the audience to shake their shoulders. Some do: too many don’t. It’s too early in the proceedings. He is madly trying to entrench a decorum, but it’s not working as well as it should. There’s going to be much more of this, with the audience on their feet being lead through a series of simple dance moves. They’re going to enjoy themselves, but right now they are in their own hump and resisting him. He needs to revamp this opening.

There’s a serious core to all this terpsichore. He has researched the effect of dance on the hippocampus, looking at possibly arresting or even reversing the way it shrinks with a person’s age. His focus is the effect that shrinkage has on Parkinson’s Disease and dementia. This is valuable stuff, and makes all the audience’s dancing important as well as fun, but it doesn’t get mentioned till 2:30.

If I were advising him I would get that serious significance to peep through sooner, as the corner stone of the ethos building. It needs only a tiny peep – holding back proper discussion of it till 2:30 is actually wise, as 2:30 is typical hump-length (his evaporates at 2:30). All the early loosening up stuff is a hump-busting routine,and I applaud him for that, but it needs adjusting.

His opening begins to work at 0:57. The decorum drops into place as soon as he introduces groovy music – his audience is more prepared to move with it. When he asks them at 1:40 to stand up, they all do – whereas they didn’t all shake their shoulders a few seconds earlier. This is not only because their own hump is receding, it’s because it is easier to sit still while others are shaking shoulders than it is to keep your seat while all around are losing theirs and blaming it on you. His having got them on their feet they merrily follow him through a simple preliminary routine that they enjoy so much that when at 2:25 he invites them to sit back down he gets wild applause.

Thereafter he’s away!  The talk is a roaring success – with one small exception. At 14:00, just before the dancing climax when all the routines are going to be strung together, he invites anyone who wants to join him on the stage. No one does. I would bet big money on there being several people itching to do so, but not daring to be the first. He handles that wrong. He should have started building that invitation twelve minutes earlier.

At 2:00, when the groovy music first starts, he picks out, and congratulates, ‘a groover’ up in a gallery – excellent! He should also have picked out one (or more!) near the front of the stalls – and ideally near an aisle. Thereafter he should repeatedly have referred to how good they were – “if in doubt, follow the lady in the pink shirt – she’s brilliant!”  Or better still, develop a relationship with the lady in the pink shirt – ask her name. Thereafter, “Come on guys: see if you can do it as well as Yasmine!”

Then at 14:00, instead of issuing an open, and relatively cold, invitation it should have been, “Yasmine, are you going to join me up here to demonstrate? Anyone else going to join us? Yes, come on up sir! etc.” Working an audience is not easy, but he is already good at it. He just needs a nudge or two to be brilliant.

Enjoy this speech: the audience did!

So did I.

Andrew C McCarthy and a lawless President

Andrew C. McCarthy was at the Heartland Institute last week (12 June to be precise). He delivered a talk to promote his new book Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

This, it seems to me, is eye-catching subject matter when such a distinguished attorney is broadcasting it. Amazon quotes The New York Times thus:

His background distinguishes him from pundits on the left and the right.

I wonder whether the speech excites equivalent interest.

In posting this video on You Tube, The Heartland Institute removed McCarthy’s introduction, so we are not privy to the “litany of past accomplishments” that apparently precede this speech. We start when he does, and his speech gives way to Q&A at 37:30.

When trainees of mine, struggling with a huge deck of slides representing the fruit of some enormously expensive piece of corporate research, are sweating over how to precis it to an audience, I invariably tell them not to bother. The audience will get that deck in hard-copy; so then the speaker’s job becomes not to precis it but to trail it. Just as a film trailer doesn’t tell you how the movie pans out but seeks to persuade you to watch the movie, so you should prepare some sexy cherry-picking in such a way that the audience becomes determined to read through all the rest of that hard-copy.

By precisely the same token I hoped that McCarthy would trail this book and not precis it. He trails it.

My heart momentarily sank when he produced a sheaf of papers at the beginning, but never did he look at it. This speech is shot entirely from the hip, and is all the better for that.

It’s also well structured: he tells us clearly how he approached the lay-out of the book, takes us through that layout, and cherry-picks (that expression again) examples in passing. What makes it all rather startling is the calm matter-of-fact way he recounts a stream of spine-chilling stuff. I keep reminding myself that he is not just a lawyer, but has spent many years as a prosecuting attorney. What may be spine-chilling to me is mundane to him.

The proof of the pudding for a speech such as this is whether it works. Has it persuaded me to buy and read the book?

You bet.

Walter Russell Mead and flawed paper

At the City College of New York, on April 15, 2013, Walter Russell Mead delivered the inaugural Anne & Bernard Spitzer Lecture in the Colin L. Powell Center. It was entitled “America’s Asia pivot at a time of upheaval”. There’s a catchy title for you.

Mead begins at 4:20, and ends at 48:57 for Q&A but I would urge you first to watch his introduction by Rajan Menon. Even a professor of political science needs to learn about microphone technique if he is to fulfill this function properly. It has been several months since I last had need to moan here about someone popping on a microphone, but Menon more than makes up the shortfall. How hard would you have to work to pop more than this? What he has to say is interesting and provides a good background for what is to come, but he leans in towards the microphone to ensure that his percussive consonants have his column of breath unerringly hitting the microphone’s diaphragm every time. His aim is flawless.

He commits another error. Leading applause from the lectern feels right, looks wrong and sounds worse because the microphone compounds the felony.  Who would have thought there were so many little things to know?

Mead is taller than Menon so the microphone is aimed just south of his beard. Furthermore he doesn’t lean in to the microphone. As a result we finally hear the name ‘Spitzer’, and words like ‘policy’ or ‘polarization’, without a pop. This continues till 6:49 when Mead adjusts his microphone, and in the process the popping makes a nostalgic return – but only partially. He stands up, doesn’t lean into the microphone, and consequently pops a little less than Menon. A better microphone might eliminate it altogether, but in the meantime it’s there.

The issue being discussed is globally important. It comes from a respected commentator. It is being imparted to a knowledgeable audience in a specialized faculty within a respected seat of learning. Why then am I dwelling on this small detail?

Precisely because of all the above.

Were this a published document which Mead had written, and the paper was so transparently thin that the reader was constantly distracted by seeing other writing through what he was reading, and of such poor quality that it kept tearing when the page was turned, it would not be doing justice to the subject matter – just as in this case.

There is more to public speaking than merely an ability to convey concepts. Mead manifestly knows his subject and has much of importance to say. He argues his case skilfully and very compellingly, he shoots it spontaneously from the hip, with occasional histrionic outbursts that spice up the experience. It is very interesting and I commend this as a speech to be watched.

I just bemoan that it is printed on flawed paper.