Errol Damelin at the Oxford Union

We have in previous posts dipped into a debate that was held at the Oxford Union in November 2012, with the motion ‘The House Would Occupy Wall Street‘. We gaped open-jawed at the grand histrionics of Cornel West: we marvelled at the rapier skill of Daniel Hannan. The former is a philosopher, academic and political activist, the latter an MEP and journalist. Both are outstanding speakers; neither is to be found in my niche.

I work in the upper levels of the business world; and another two speakers in that same debate come from there.  Errol Damelin and Anthony Fry are both distinguished members of the banking fraternity. Today I’d like to look at a speech delivered by Errol Damelin in support of the motion.

After a few seconds of preliminary small-talk he swings into ethos. “you may be questioning why the founder of  […] a financial services company is sitting on this side…” Regardless of how he answers that supposed questioning he has very neatly laid out his credentials for addressing the issue at hand. This bodes well. He then proceeds to outline the essence of the Occupy movement. Beginning at 1:08 there is an extended (eight elements) anaphora – “it’s about…”.

This man may not be the sort of virtuoso performer that we saw in West and Hannan, but he has presence and he knows a certain amount of speaking theory.

Nevertheless if I were advising him I’d want him to lose those cue cards on the dispatch box. He uses them very smoothly. unobtrusively and skilfully; yet they offend me. I briefly wondered whether they might be a comfort blanket, essentially redundant but still providing reassurance through periodic glances: but no, he needs them. There are a few occasions when he gets momentarily lost, and has to re-orientate himself. He needs them.

If his material were properly structured he wouldn’t need them. If he – the expert authority – can’t remember what he wants to tell them what chance has the audience – inexpert listeners – of remembering what they were told? Let me put this another way. The need for cue cards has nothing to do with memory – he spoke for less than a mere ten minutes: it is symptomatic of his not having marshalled his facts and arguments clearly enough.  That’s where he needs to do his work.

I wrote that paragraph with the speech paused at 4:45, and then watched the rest. It proceeded dramatically to support what I had written. Test it for yourself: watch the speech once and then pretend that you needed to retail the same arguments to someone who hadn’t been there.  Could you make a good enough fist of that?  I venture not, because his structure is messy and incoherent. Sentences, once spoken, fall off a cliff and are lost to memory.

Understanding and applying structure is where he needs to do his work.

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