Jeffrey Archer: light relief.

Given the interesting time we inhabit it is not surprising, I suppose, that recent postings on this blog have been a little – shall we say? – earnest? You will also not be surprised to learn that my small stockpile of speeches yet to be addressed here are all likewise rather meaty.

What better escape to light relief could there be than to listen to the reminiscences of a best selling novelist? – whether or not we are conscious that the narrative thread we are following sits in a life tapestry that has been quite as dramatic as those we are escaping. Jeffrey Archer has thus far had an eventful life.

He chose, however, to restrict this talk at the Oxford Union to an author’s reminiscence; and I think I am rather grateful.

There are various ways of introducing impact early to a speech. Jovially castigating your audience in the manner of a strict schoolteacher is as good as any. He certainly makes the characterisation work, and reintroduces it at strategic points later.

My word, but he’s a fantastic speaker; and he knows to play to his strength. His strength is his skill as a raconteur. You may think that an obvious ‘given’ for a novelist, but it absolutely does not automatically follow. You may think that a hugely successful writer must inevitably be an expert speaker, but that does not follow either. On this blog we have sampled the speaking of some stupendously fine writers who were lousy speakers. I will risk boring you by repeating yet again that written English and spoken English are different languages and require different skills – subtly different, but different.

Furthermore, he is talking about himself; and that is a notorious minefield.

He uses no paper when he speaks: he shoots from the hip. That is not a difficult skill to learn but it does take a measure of well-directed application. He has taken the trouble to learn. So here we witness an expert story-teller and wordsmith. and he spans both languages. What a joy to watch this speech!

Do I have no negative comments? Well I’d prefer it if he didn’t fold his arms from time to time. It’s not because I’ve read somewhere that this is defensive body-language (though obviously I have, as probably have you). It’s because the rest of the time he seems completely in control of the show, but that seems to slip when he has his arms folded. I’ve worked with people who buck the trend and seem completely relaxed with their arms folded, but he doesn’t – not to me.

Oh yes, and I’m not crazy about his red elbow-pads. There I’ve said it.

Maryam Namazie twice

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to know how to critique a speaker or a speech.

Recently when I was preparing this previous blog posting I heard Maryam Namazie described as the bravest person he knows. I immediately went looking for her, and found this.

Here we see Namazie trying to deliver a speech, and being thwarted by the boorish bullying of Muslims (presumably) in her audience. In an hilariously graphic example of transference, one of those conscientiously trying to intimidate her is doing so by loudly complaining that he is being intimidated.

This sort of crybully behaviour is becoming widespread wherever we look, and for one very good reason: it works. We as a society not only suffer it, we seem to encourage it. Pressure groups of various persuasions have learnt that if they play the victim card they can get away with all manner of misbehaviour.

Before my hair turned silver it was gold. When I was at school it was considered great sport to declare that gingers had ferocious tempers, and then taunt one till he lost patience and proved you right. It never occurred to me to claim victimhood; but I should have worked out that if I invented a word – gingerophobia, – and accused people of being gingerist, I could get all sorts of preferential treatment that would excuse anything I did. Today, once you get that process rolling, you can reach a stage whereby the worse your behaviour the more privileged you become. ISIS agrees with me: look at the eagerness with which they have been trying to claim ‘credit’ for the activity of that murdering loony in Las Vegas.

Back to Maryam Namazie. Despairing of being able to critique that other example, I found this –

It’s good, it’s fascinating, it’s hugely informative and I commend it. I could fill several riveting paragraphs on how much better she could deliver it if she didn’t read it, but I find my concentration veering back to those louts in the previous video.

What idiocy by our own representatives means we are compelled to put up with this, in what we fondly believe to be a civilised country?

 

Millie Fontana and “No”

At the moment Australia is in the grip of a referendum – a postal ballot – on whether same sex marriage should be made legal.

In my constant search for interesting speeches I came across this one from Millie Fontana, lending her voice to the “No” side of the argument. Is Millie a died-in-the-wool bigot? No. Is Millie an ignorant redneck who doesn’t know what she’s talking about? No. Is Millie a spittle-flecked, hate-filled fascist? No. Am I going to tell you about Millie? No. I think it would be better for her to do the telling.

There is a stress symptom that is very widespread. Those who study such things in depth tell me that it seems to be hard-wired into us. Most tiny babies do it when they are tired (one of my sons did: the other son just curled up and slept). The symptom involves a hand doing something somewhere around the back of the head. It can be rubbing the neck, fiddling with an ear, scratching the scalp, anything like that. Now watch Millie and her hair. Millie is stressed, and why wouldn’t she be?

I shall now doff my rhetor hat and leave you alone to listen to her story. It is a very important one. Her message even more so.

 I have nothing to add.

Trump at the U.N.

On 19 September President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. I have seen the speech described with the word ‘hate’. That word has become a catch-all for any opinion ‘with which I disagree’; in fact, disastrously, that almost amounts to a legal definition these days. Therefore like most who actually bother to think I invariably dismiss the term until and unless I have examined the matter in hand.

For example, we were all regaled with how Trump had threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. There’s an inflammable headline for you! Having now watched the whole speech several times I can bear witness to the accuracy of the quote, just as I can point out how misleading it is without the qualification that preceded it, “if [USA] is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but…”

Here is the whole speech.

I have no appetite for picking through all his points. There’s more than 40 minutes of speech in which he did that for himself, and you here have the opportunity to form your own opinion. Therefore I shall limit myself to my own speciality interest, the preparation and delivery of the speech itself.

I like his “Welcome to New York” opening. It’s a velvet glove covering an iron fist that says “your building: my town”.

As representing the USA, it is fitting and traditional that he gives a very potted summary of the state of his nation, on the one hand a country battered by hurricanes and on the other a country resolutely and successfully climbing out of economic doldrums. He doesn’t waste the opportunity to point out that the economic turnaround began with his accession. The Dow Jones had been rising for a time before he entered the Oval Office; but it has accelerated since, along with growth and employment. Crime and food-stamp usage have travelled in the opposite direction.

He is much beloved of triads, and I don’t mean oriental crime syndicates. They are scattered all over this speech. “Peace, sovereignty, and prosperity”, “strong, independent, and free”, and so on. They are everywhere, and the commonest ingredient seems to be “sovereignty”. I was put in mind of my own triad in this blog posting almost exactly a year ago where I pointed out that in eight years the previous administration had seen the U.S. become “less free, less safe, and less prosperous”.

At 02:55 I am impressed with Trump’s presence of mind when he switches between TelePrompter screens, misreads a word and seamlessly corrects himself. Later it happens again, and then again. It goes on happening, always the same type of misreading. With my trainees, whenever asked, I tell them how skilled are operators of this sort of equipment, always holding station with the speaker. I think we can safely assume that the United Nations, and/or the White House, have the most skilled of all, yet it seems here that repeatedly Trump’s screens get just behind him. I hesitate to add to the huge heap of conspiracy-theory-rumours that surround this presidency, but I sense a slight odour of the subtlest of sabotage coming off this. Completely unprovable and, probably by anyone other than a saddo like me, unnoticed.

He commits that most widespread of all the diction errors: swallowing the ends of words. He shares this mistake with some of the best speakers in the business, Hannan and Obama to name but two, and there have been others castigated for it on this blog.  I thought you might want evidence of Trump doing it, so I confidently clicked straight to about the middle of the speech and within seconds had an example. At 21:50 he says, “We must deny the terrorists safe haven…” The second syllable of that last word is virtually inaudible.

My having just mentioned Obama, I feel that you might be expecting a comparison between the two presidents’ speaking abilities. This could be a battle of cliché metaphors, but here goes. Trump is no longer the bull in a china shop that he used to be, but he remains a bit of a blunt instrument. Obama is supremely elegant – a fencing master. None of those metaphors answers the question though, because perhaps the prime purpose of a speech is to be memorable. Quote me a sentence from an Obama speech – just one.

Hasn’t it gone quiet!

If I asked you to quote from this speech you’d probably shout, “totally destroy North Korea” but this speech would be cheating because it’s so recent; therefore try Trump’s inaugural speech. Do you remember “Buy American, hire American”?  – or “You will never be ignored again”? If so, Trump wins.

And I bet you never expected me to say that.

 

 

 

 

Amy Wax: victory over handicap

I came across a fairly short piece of speaking by Amy Wax, Professor of Law. She delivered it on September 26, 2016.

I had recently seen a bit of a Twitter storm about an op-ed she had co-written in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and wanted to see how well she communicated orally. I wasn’t particularly anxious to hear her speaking on that controversy, because a few minutes of online research had revealed that it was just another example of PC-driven imbecility trying to shut down a source of reasoned debate. I’m afraid I find that terminally tedious. It is not tedious that academia is being destroyed and that the spinelessness of its authorities is hastening the process: it’s the PC arguments that are tedious. As often happens, the PC arguments opposing her in this matter make Professor Wax’s case for her.

I just wanted to hear her speak, and this video fulfilled that desire.

I have absolutely no comment to make concerning what she says in this video, because I am barely listening. She is commenting upon a Paper about which I know nothing.

Without that distraction I am able to focus entirely on her delivery.

She is a university professor, therefore delivering a lecture is just another day at the office. She has no discernible problem with nerves.

She is reading her script. My opposition to scripts is well enough known on this blog, so I shall not revisit the fundamentals of that specifically. She is reading exceedingly well, with a huge amount of expression, so all her lecturing experience is bearing fruit and negating many of my issues with scripts.

However …

Like most good readers, she periodically lifts her head for a parenthetic, of-the-cuff digression. I invite you to watch those and see how, even though her reading is bright and expressive, her digressions are more so. It’s nothing to do with voice tone or modulation, which is already easily as good as we could want, it comes down to something as basic as seeing her eyes. As soon as we have her eyes we also have the expressiveness of her face, and that adds a dimension that is beyond price. The funny thing is that I think she knows this. When she returns to her script she seems to wind up the vocal expressiveness a notch, as if to compensate for the loss of her eyes.

Even without listening to what she is saying I find this little talk fascinating as a study of the benefit of learning how to dispense with all paper aids to speaking. Professor Wax is younger than I, but she’s been round the block a few times. Within the limitation of having believed that she needs paper she has taught herself very well. It is mouthwatering to speculate on how good she would have been if she had learned to do without.

Narendra Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu

The fourth of July is a somewhat significant date in the American calendar, and this year it may also have made itself significant to India and Israel. That was the day that Prime Minister Modi of India arrived in Israel on a state visit.

I was born in India though, having made the decision to leave eighteen months later, I know far less about its politics than I would like. Concerning Modi, report speaks goldenly of his profit; but then the same could be said of a few recent political scoundrels who had good PR arrangements. Anyway I had gathered that India and Israel were developing a good relationship and that a state visit was planned. On 4 July it eventually happened.

For the purposes of this blog I was delighted. I had long wanted to learn more about Modi from his public speaking, but every example I found on line was in Hindi. Though I have a large number of followers in India who would understand that, I was not capable of delivering any sort of meaningful critique. Now, here would be a Modi speech in English!

The speeches start at 3:00, with the welcome from Benjamin Netanyahu, having been preceded by the usual ceremonial inspection of the guard and the two prime ministers winding up seated and shaking hands. They do this very warmly indeed, and if you think this is positive body language you ain’t seen nothin’. You haven’t yet witnessed their mutual greeting at the foot of the aeroplane’s steps, but you will – repeatedly through the video. They engage in a wholehearted embrace. These two really like each other.

Unless I am mistaken Netanyahu’s opening is in three languages, Hebrew, English, and Hindi, but he quickly switches to English.

This, being a welcome, is ostensibly directed at Modi; and speeches like this, by their inevitable nature, put me in mind of speeches near the beginning of plays, wherein one character tells another what the other obviously already knows, but needs to be told here so that the audience can catch up on the back story. That said, the heartfelt nature of it, and the transparent genuineness of Modi’s smile when the camera cuts to him, augur well for the future relationship between the countries.

I²T²

That is the Face of Netanyahu’s welcome speech. He explains that the formula represents the marriage of India’s industry with Israel’s technology. Seems a pretty powerful combination to me. It’s an excellent little speech.

Modi begins his reply at 8:30. He starts with an opening pause, as incidentally did Netanyahu. These guys know their stuff!

I am beginning to understand why, given the choice, Modi makes speeches only in Hindi. For one thing, he should: it’s his language. For another, though he speaks English well, he fights a little with pronunciation. I find him understandable, but suspect that before he appears again on this blog I shall have to learn Hindi.

4 July features again as Modi reminds us that it was this date on which in 1976 Israel pulled off that astonishing rescue in Entebbe. The operation was led by Netanyahu’s brother who lost his life in the process. He talks of the inspiration of heroes. He also, like Netanyahu, refers to the symbiotic potential of an alliance between their two nations.

Another excellent speech, and it ends at 14:13.

You could leave it there, with another six minutes on the video, but I decided to watch a little longer as Modi made his way down the receiving line of dignitaries. We’ve all seen these as the visiting VIP nods his way along, stopping periodically for a few token sentences with random people in the line. Not Modi! Every single person in that line receives a warm handshake and a brief conversation.

There are women in the line. They are bare-headed and wearing makeup. Why did I bother to mention that? Because Israel, the victim of boycotts from the contemptible PC imbeciles in the west, is the only country for hundreds of miles where you would see that happening, along with democracy, freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of sexual orientation and so much else.

Israel aligned with India. I find it heartwarming and mouthwatering.

 

US Defense Secretary cheats brilliantly

Usually when I’ve been working with someone on their public speaking there’s a sentence I trot out at or near the end of the session. “It’s just xxxxxx talking.” [Insert your own adjective.] The sentiment behind what I’m saying is that we can wrestle with analyses and techniques till hell freezes over but in the end you are doing nothing more sophisticated than talking. Get a handle on that point, dismiss the mystique, and your mindset is going to be in a good place.

So when a couple of days ago I happened upon this tiny clip of film of the United States Secretary of Defense, recorded apparently by a phone while delivering an impromptu speech, I was delighted.

The best advice that I ever give concerning the art of impromptu speaking is, CHEAT. Always have something up your sleeve. Let’s see what James Mattis has up his sleeve.

There’s no grand opening, just a jocular exchange of banter concerning how they’ve ambushed him. We need to bear in mind the extraordinary bond that prevails between comrades in arms; and Mattis was a Marine Corps General.

Opening banter over, Mattis just xxxxxx talks. Look at his body language: hands in pockets, casual stance, head swinging backwards and forwards so that everyone sees his face (and we periodically almost lose his voice). He’s just xxxxxx talking. No ceremony.

My book on business speaking has a strange title, at least it’s strange to anyone who hasn’t worked with me on their speaking. It contains the word Face, which is the name I give to that phrase or sentence that you give your speech to identify it and make it memorable. There are no prizes on offer for spotting the Face of this tiny little casual talk.

We got two powers; the power of inspiration, and the power of intimidation.

I would take a lot of persuading that he hasn’t said that before. It doesn’t matter: it’s damn good and it instantly identifies this little talk for ever. He’s simultaneously obeyed two prime pieces of speaking advice: give your speech a Face, and in case you suddenly have to deliver something impromptu always have some gold up your sleeve.

And his peroration? “Listen to your NCOs, now. So long.”

Less than three minutes and a brilliant piece of speaking. He needs saluting.