Tim Martin should give paper the bullet

Leave Means Leave, an organisation whose name gives us a strong clue that it is pro-Brexit, has been holding rallies around the UK for some months. On 14 December they held one in London, and on the bill was Tim Martin of Wetherspoons.

He claims that his accent is an amalgam of Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Those countries may be where he has spent most of his life, but I hear neither of those in his accent which is a one-off, but then Tim Martin is a one-off.

He has delivered speeches at other Leave Means Leave rallies and, having watched some, I can tell you that they essentially bear the same message. But they are not the same speech because the words he is using are different.

He is using a list of bullet points and then trusting himself to say the words that come to him. That causes glorious episodes of Martin speaking spontaneously with his audience, with all the desired symptoms of sincerity and command of his subject, but those glorious episodes are separated by self interruptions while he dons his specs and peers at his list of bullet points. I itch to show him how easily he could bin that bloody paper and then shoot the whole speech from the hip. He’s almost there already.

His audience loves him because he’s such a refreshing personality, and that personality pours across the footlights onto the floor of the hall.

Except while he’s peering at his bloody paper.

Yanis Varoufakis: Euro problem

In 2018 the Oxford Union hosted an address with Q&A from Yanis Varoufakis. Finding out the precise dates of these talks is never easy, and these days I have neither the time nor inclination to fish around, but I reckon that a few clues suggest it was mid-November.

The talk was entitled The Euro Has Never Been More Problematic.

Yes, well he’s done this before. 

He even makes it clear that he has spoken at the Oxford Union before. Yet at the beginning I still see nerve symptoms – tiny ones, admittedly, but it confirms that everyone experiences a hump. Better speakers hide it better and dismiss it more quickly, but everyone gets one.

This is a fine piece of speaking. It could be improved; for instance I found myself having to spool back a couple of times to clarify points he was making. His live audience couldn’t do that, and it indicates that his structure could be refined slightly.

When working on trainees’ structures, I usually do it under the guise of making it easier for them to deliver without prompting from script or notes. Nevertheless I also point out that good structure carries a more important byproduct of making the speech easier for the audience to follow, and we always need to keep an eye on that byproduct. Varoufakis has comfortably outgrown the need for paper prompting, so he needs to factor in a conscious effort to discipline his structure for coherence. Though he speaks excellent English, his accent adds a hurdle to his coherence. The hurdle is small, but it will be enlarged for those students in this audience for whom English is likewise not their first language.

[Regular readers of this blog will have spotted that when speakers are as good as this I just get more picky.]

I am reluctant to comment on what he says, because he makes his arguments very well as you’d expect from a politician. He has been round the block a few times, so he is well informed. Nevertheless what I call ‘politician blinkers’ cause him, in my opinion, to be misguided in two or three areas; but I’d rather not get bogged down in that.

The Oxford Union are to be congratulated yet again on platforming a good and wide range of speakers.

Autodidacticism

New Year (if I might be allowed to indulge in a cliché) is a time for reflection.

Here comes a reflective question. What really is the nature of this terror-inducing beastie, Public Speaking?

Here comes the answer. Stripped of all the mystique that gets in our way, it is just talking. That’s all.

I know it’s not quite the same as the other talking we spend our lives doing, because other details crash this party. For instance, you are standing while everyone else is sitting. You are facing in the opposite direction to everyone else who all just happen to be looking at you. You are the only one speaking – ah yes, there’s the respect that makes calamity…

Usual talking involves other people speaking also. Dialogue (another word for conversation which is what we’re used to) is a process whereby people feed each other with thoughts, ideas, questions to be answered, and so on – two-way traffic. This is monologue – one way traffic – ay, there’s the rub. You have to do all the talking for a period of time that doesn’t include prompting from anyone else.

So the first thing you need to learn is how to prepare your monologue so that –

  • you can deliver it like a proper speaker, in other words without script or notes,
  • you answer many of the questions they would have asked,
  • the audience can easily follow, understand, and remember what is said, and
  • both you and the audience can get full benefit from it.

That can be quickly and easily taught and learnt. The second thing is how to deliver it – a different matter altogether. 

Rubbish speakers speak at their audience; mediocre speakers speak to them; proper speakers speak with them. Speech delivery comes down to how well you can develop your relationship with your audience.

Your relationship: your audience. No one else’s; this is entirely your province. And the most persuasive, engaging, compelling you can be is you. The real you.

Oscar Wilde said, 

Be yourself; everyone else is taken. 

He was right. He also said, 

To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up. 

In that he was wrong. In his modishly brittle cynicism he was suggesting that you could be ‘natural’ only by posing; and that’s nonsense. Being natural is not so much difficult as scary, because certain guards need to be lowered. I’m not saying that you need to be bosom-buddies with everyone in the room, but each member of that audience should sense a connection of some sort. Built properly, an audience relationship can get quite personal.

So personal that learning how to build it should likewise be your province: no one else can reach inside you as well as you can. And that’s why I do not teach people their delivery. I enable them to teach themselves.

LOL Peter Ustinov

The key is to have a brilliant opening and a brilliant closing, and keep them as close as possible.

For many years I used to entertain public speaking seminar audiences with that quotation by Peter Ustinov; but I stopped when too many of my audience looked at me blankly, not having a clue who Peter Ustinov was (he died in 2004). That’s when I started suspecting I was getting old. I had the suspicion confirmed when, for the purposes of this posting, I started searching not only my own books but also the internet for the quotation in order to get the wording precisely correct. I couldn’t find it anywhere. The nearest I got was a similar observation by George Burns, and that was about sermons. (George Burns was – oh never mind, he died in 1996.)

So either I got it wrong all that time, or I am so ancient that I’ve become an incompetent searcher for quotations.

At any rate, for a little Christmas entertainment both for those of us who remember him and those who never had that benefit, here is his contribution to the ITV “An Audience With …” series. It dates from 1988. For me it might have been the inspiration for the acronym LOL.

Stand by to see what a great many celebrities looked like thirty years ago.

He’s unquestionably the finest raconteur I’ve ever seen. 

Lia Mills: out of the mouths …

In 2009 a twelve-year-old girl wrote an impassioned English class assignment. The assignment became a speech that was posted on YouTube and went viral. It was on the subject of abortion.

As we have often been told, the Pro-Choice movement cares for women and their right to choose. The death threats that immediately started being aimed at this girl and her family must therefore be classified as caring death-threats.

Lia Mills is now twenty-one years old and a Human Rights Activist with her own YouTube Channel. She is the author of An Inconvenient Life, an autobiography. It would seem therefore that the death threats didn’t work.

From the classic James Bond opening, via the epistrophe that begins at 0:53, through the disturbing statistics, and concluding with the quote by Horton (the Dr Seuss elephant) this is by any standards an outstanding speech.

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

 

Shannon Bream makes me glad.

This will not be the first time on this blog that we have watched a speech from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. On the previous occasion Trey Gowdy was the speaker. Unsurprisingly, given Liberty’s Christian roots, that was a ringing call to the students to follow a lifelong path of Christian integrity.

In May 2013 the keynote speaker for their Commencement was Shannon Bream.

The introduction by Jerry Falwell Jr, President of the University, is suitably effusive, and concludes with a brief ceremony of conferring upon Shannon Bream a Doctorate of Communication. She begins speaking at 4:03.

As a programme anchor on TV Bream will have spoken to bigger audiences, but when you are broadcasting and can’t see your audience its size is just a number. At 4:20 we get a shot of the audience, crammed into a football stadium, and I wonder whether this is the largest live and visible audience that she has addressed.

In that same shot we see her Teleprompter screens. To me they are hugely significant.

In my work, though occasionally I and the trainee will work hard to develop new skills, the first, easiest, and commonest thing is to identify the trainee’s strengths in order to build them and play to them. Bream plays to her strengths.

She is reading from a Teleprompter, and doing it very well. Of course! That’s a skill she had to develop for her work.

The words she is reading are not in written English but in spoken English and sound spontaneous. Writing a script like that is a surprisingly difficult skill (so difficult that I find it quicker and easier to teach people to structure their material in such a way as to be able to speak spontaneously without writing it). Difficult or not, that’s also a skill she had to develop for her work.

She is speaking quickly. Most would sound less intelligible or even panicky at that pace, but again it’s an occupational skill for what she does for a living.

All this would be very difficult for nearly everyone, but she is making it seem like a walk in the park and succeeding wonderfully.

The only professional error I can identify is rather cheeky and based on the assumption that she is working to a fifteen minute slot. Starting at 4:03 and ending at 19:41 she over-runs by thirty-eight seconds. You think that’s splitting hairs? You’re right of course, though you would not have been had this been a broadcast. Airtime operates precisely to the second: under-running is manageable, over-running is not. Nevertheless, this is not broadcasting and she is playing to a window she knows to be elastic. I bet her timing is more accurate than anyone else who has done this speech.

Shannon Bream’s message is rather devout. That is appropriate in this setting, though many outside the setting would be a little uncomfortable with it. I would urge them nevertheless to pay close attention. You do not have to espouse the dogma to value the philosophy.

I’m glad I watched this.

 

Mohammad Tawhidi: worthy of salute

In March 2017, the Rotary Club of Adelaide, Australia, hosted a talk by Shaikh Mohammad Tawhidi. He styles himself the Imam of Peace, and I describe him as very brave.

We are not told who introduces him but he does a workmanlike job. Tawhidi comes to the microphone at 3:20, and opens with a pause. When he eventually speaks, it is at a measured pace. I am already becoming aware that this guy knows what he’s doing, so I’m not at all surprised when he speaks without notes.

On the other hand I am astounded at how brave he is. I shouldn’t have to make that observation. Other faiths accept it when their members identify ways in which their culture could be reformed, but Muslim agitators have claimed a unique right to do what they like, breaking any law, to punish those who fail to toe even their most extreme line; and western politicians, from Theresa May upwards, have disgracefully turned their back on their consciences to indulge them.

We in the west were brought up to understand that everyone should be equal before the law. Today, that is an assertion that can get you absurdly labelled a hate-stained extremist, and it is the politicians and their echo chamber in the media that are to blame. Desperately we search for some spark of courage and integrity among our political servants, and then happen upon it here in the form of an Imam. I salute him.

Tawhidi’s speech ends at 23:25, and then he goes to questions.