Ian Percy is good with chickens.

In my travels I have periodically heard about Ian Percy. Trainees and also readers of this blog have mentioned him to me. I have been told that he is a ‘certified speaking professional’ (certified by whom?). He has been inducted into both the Canadian and U.S. Speaking Halls of Fame. He has been described as “one of the top 21 speakers for the 21st century”.

That’s some billing! Shall we see if he lives up to it? Here he is, speaking at the Center for Spiritual Living, Capistrano Valley, California, in January last year. His talk is entitled “Free the chickens”.

He is introduced by Rev. Dr. Heather Dawn Clark, and my senses suggest that Percy wrote his own introduction. (If he didn’t, he should have done: it saves so much trouble for everyone. At any rate, whoever wrote it, I like the alliterative triad in it.) I don’t know what makes Dr Clark laugh as we join her, but it adds warmth and charm to the proceedings. Dr Clark makes just one mistake. Leading or joining the applause when standing at the lectern feels so right but it looks and sounds wrong. Ian Percy begins at 1:20.

You may notice a sort of bell-like singing sound, impinging on your consciousness from time to time. It started during Dr Clark’s introduction and it doesn’t stop when Percy begins. This is from automatic microphone adjustment (AMA). I cannot be certain whether the live audience heard it or whether it is interference in the interface between the Center’s sound system and the camera’s microphone. The Center’s sound system is so good in every other respect that I suspect it is the latter and just one of those unfortunate things that happen.

Percy needs AMA. He uses such a huge range of tone colour with his voice that without it there’d either be passages that were inaudible or others severely distorted.

His inconsequential opening chit-chat shows tiny signs of hump, but you have to look pretty hard for it. This guy’s reputation is well earned. So good indeed is he that I instinctively reach for my nit-picking tweezers.

The camera operator, later in the speech, pans across to the screen to show us Percy’s visuals; but with the early slides we just have to guess what is there. The guess is easy so why the slides? Without them he would not be periodically looking around at the screen and surrendering his claim on the audience’s focus. If I were advising him I would tell him to ditch the slides – all of them. They add virtually nothing to what he is saying and he is quite compelling enough to not need those things as a crutch.

He has cue-cards of some description above his eye-level behind the audience/camera, but he uses them only for when he needs to quote precise figures. The rest of the time he is shooting from the hip and doing it well. If advising him I would recommend having those details on a card in his hand. Being seen to refer to hard copy when quoting statistics strengthens verisimilitude. I have trainees like Finance Directors whose lives are so absorbed in the figures they quote at presentations that they could quote them to the penny in their sleep; but they look at a card when they quote them so that their audiences are not tempted to suspect that these figures are ball-park. Sometimes the cards are blank…

And really those are the only nits I’m going to pick.

It’s an absorbing presentation, engagingly delivered, and though the message may be less than ground-breaking it is thought-provoking and I certainly do not think of the half hour it took to watch as being time wasted. This guy is good.

Emma Watson’s voice is trailing her face

It made all the papers! In September 2014 Emma Watson spoke at the United Nations about gender equality and the he-for-she campaign. The speech was universally described as ‘moving’. Shall we see whether we agree?

Before we reach Ms Watson we see and hear her introducer making a mistake that I have previously identified in this blog. If you are at the lectern you should never join in with the applause. It feels right, but looks and sounds wrong.

Oh dear, how vulnerable her voice sounds! She is very nervous indeed. It is understandable, but I am anxious to know whether this is merely a manifestation of hump, or whether it is more deeply rooted.

The worst of the vulnerability recedes in around 3 minutes, which is par for a hump, but now there’s something else bothering me and I can’t put my finger on it. She does not look down at the lectern, but nor is she shooting from the hip. This is a learnt script: I’d stake big money on that. I’m not surprised: she is after all an actor. The learnt performance has also been thoroughly rehearsed, but again that is what actors do.

Quite often I find I can identify problems with speakers by closing my eyes and letting my hearing operate without visual interference. I try this, and am quite alarmed by the result. She now sounds monotonous, frankly boring, and the voice is fragile.

This is what has been bothering me. Visually she is conveying a very strong and expressive picture; but the sound, when taken alone, is frighteningly weak.

I am trying to resist a facile, knee-jerk analysis along the lines of film-actor-hasn’t-learnt-proper-stage-voice-projection, though there could be something in that. At any rate, her her voice is nothing like as expressive as her face.  This is a pity.

It is laudable when young people, having made a success in one thing, branch out and challenge themselves in other directions. Watson is to be congratulated, but I hope she doesn’t stop working at this particular skill.

Robert Bryce – about as good as they come.

On 9 September, 2014 – about 3 weeks ago – The Institute of Public Affairs hosted a dinner in Melbourne. It was the setting for this year’s H V Mackay lecture which was delivered by Robert Bryce. His specialist subject, both in his books and in this lecture, is energy.

It took very few seconds for me to get excited about Bryce. Seldom does any speaker set out his stall as clearly as this. Seldom does any speaker present such a distinct contents page. Some might expect me to complain that he lacked a pretty opening, and I certainly discuss with trainees the desirability of pretty openings, but pretty openings are garnish. Given the choice between a restaurant serving mediocre food with pretty garnish and a restaurant serving more simple but fabulous food the answer is obvious. Bryce doesn’t fanny about with garnish but he leaves you in no doubt as to what you are supposed to hear.

And he shows his workings. If you are wondering about the significance of that you obviously missed the second paragraph in this posting.

Virtually all my trainees – being business people – are convinced that their work in general, and numbers in particular, are deadly boring to everyone else. Therefore I explore with them a range of ways to make data more interesting. One such is used extensively and to huge effect by Bryce. Try this for size -

In the last decade the increase in global energy demand has been roughly seven Saudi Arabias.

For quite a sustained period in this lecture The Saudi Arabia becomes his unit of energy production, and crystal clear imagery regarding his message is thereby created. A little later, when speaking not about production but consumption he adopts another unit – The Brazil. In global consumption since 1985 a Brazil has been added per year.

He uses paper, but almost entirely for statistics. Nearly all the time he is shooting from the hip, but when it seems to him important that he is seen to be quoting precise data he unashamedly consults his notes. I have absolutely no quarrel with that.

Nor do I quarrel with him when he says at 14:56, “I don’t use PowerPoint, it gives me a rash.” I don’t use it either, though not for dermatological reasons. I don’t disapprove of visuals – a picture can replace a thousand words – but I conduct 2-hour seminars without a single slide simply to demonstrate how seldom a picture is actually needed.

His vocal delivery has two small flaws. He pops his microphone very occasionally and his voice is placed incorrectly in his face. In this lecture he adjusts the mic when he begins, and needs to learn that if the mic is pointing at your mouth never point your mouth at the mic (and vice versa). He speaks with too much use of his throat. This makes his voice work harder than necessary, so he repeatedly needs to sip water. These are quibbles, but I deploy quibbles only when people are as good as this.

At one point, when discussing the current inadequacy of batteries, the subject of electric cars comes up. Here’s a choice quotation -

Electric cars are the next big thing – and they always will be

For his style of speaking Robert Bryce is about as good as they come.

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.

R.I.P.