Linda Yueh is better than she thinks

The Oxford Union debate on the motion This House Believes that the 21st Century Belongs to China took place in November 2012.  We have already heard from Lord PowellStefan Halper, Lord Wei and Sir David Tang. Today it is the turn of Linda Yueh who spoke in favour of the motion.

In the opening seconds, when I first watched her, I emitted a quiet groan. She appeared to consult her paper even to find the words, “Good evening…”. Almost immediately I reconsidered; because not only was her vocabulary unmistakeably that of the spoken rather than written variety (I’ve covered this before) but her eyes came up and stayed up most of the time. Furthermore her downward glances seemed not for getting prompting from notes. Could it be that her habit of glancing down was merely a comfort thing? If so, it would recede as her Hump receded.

It did.

She swings into a nice anecdote about the movie, Back to the Future. It results in a big, and well deserved, laugh and a ripple of applause. Her decorum has been well established. This audience now belongs to her; she’s on a roll, and she’s good.

You may think that this was to be expected: she is, after all, an experienced broadcaster. This will certainly have helped her to be able to shoot from the hip; but there is a big difference between addressing a lens and a roomful of people. Yueh knows how to work an audience.

The speech suffers a little from being reactive to what the other speakers have said. It makes it slightly disjointed and less coherent than it might have been. I want her to be articulating a much more distinct argument of her own. It emerges that she is in the process of writing a book on this very subject, so she could – and should – have come out with all guns blazing, mowing down contrary arguments in passing.

Why did she not do so? I have two theories, and both could be correct. It could be a gender thing. If a woman speaker doesn’t deliver in a macho fashion, it doesn’t mean she can’t. She could have made a policy decision based on a view that to do so could alienate her audience (and she may be right).

The other theory is that she feels less secure than her ability warrants. The downward glances during her hump are also indicative of this. She can’t help having a hump – everyone has a hump – but she can learn to handle it better. She can also be made more secure.

She’s good. She’s much better than I think she thinks she is. Ultimately only she can persuade herself of this truth, but who is going to persuade her to do that?

Michael Gove ticked nearly all my boxes

On 21 March 2013 there was held, at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster, London, a conference for Headteachers of Outstanding Schools. It was addressed by the British Secretary of State for Education, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP.

We don’t get the very beginning. Was it a bald opening? I’d like to think so, but I rather doubt it. These events tend to be set about with so much formal protocol that there was probably a preamble of some sort. Speeches made by Members of Parliament, particularly Ministers of the Crown, tend to be stiff, formal affairs. Too many of them think they have to convey an aura of Statesmanship, doncha know.

In the first half minute, speaking without notes [Brian ticks box], Gove brings up the subject of Thomas Carlyle, and makes a joke about him. That early he was never going to get a laugh, but he throws the gag away, giving himself maximum benefit from it. [Brian ticks box.] He goes on to explain that he mentions Carlyle because the latter wrote a book called Heroes and Hero Worship, and that this speech will carry the same title. [Brian ticks box, and leans forward with mounting interest.]

Within one minute of starting, Gove has used humour to relax the audience rather than getting a laugh, given the speech a Face, established a decorum of conversational sincerity and shown himself prepared to shoot this speech from the hip. If he hasn’t read my book, he probably doesn’t need to. This guy is good!

Just after the one minute mark he names his first hero – Charlie. He is referring to Charlie Taylor, who is another speaker at this conference, and whose speech we will probably examine in this blog soon. We shall not be hearing speeches from others of his heroes – Cincinnatus, Pericles, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, etc. but perhaps that’s a list that will persuade you to watch the speech.

It’s worth watching. If you are a regular reader of this blog and nurse any residual doubt about my obsession with paperless speaking, this should sway you. Yes there are little stumbles, minute and immediately amended mistakes, a very few ums and ers, but these all serve to reinforce the conversational sincerity that today’s audiences favour. I’d rather have speakers dealing in flawed diamonds than highly polished pebbles.

If I were working with him there is really only one area where I’d like to do some work and that is his diction. It’s better than most, and light years ahead of – say – Obama, but he swallows occasional syllables. It would take just the gentlest push to adjust that habit without losing any of his personality.

Am I a school teacher? No. Were I one, would I be taking issue with some of the things he is saying? Quite possibly. But as a teacher of public speaking I am ticking boxes feverishly up to the end. Up to the very, very end. He has a very strong closing – something that too many overlook.

I’ll repeat myself. This guy is good.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar answers his own questions

The most popular article so far on this blog I posted on 5 April this year. It was a rave review of a speech by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. When therefore I happened upon talks made by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar I was eager to explore them, though nervous of doing a critique lest I fall into the trap of odious comparisons. There was something else that stayed my hand: though there are numerous examples on line of Sri Sri sitting and applying his spiritual wisdom to questions from the audience, and a few examples of his pacing a stage and liberating a stream of consciousness, it took a great deal of searching to find anything that could be described as a formal speech. Here he is, addressing an audience at the University of Tel Aviv in Israel on 19 November, 2009, and the speech is entitled Spirituality and Money.

I have been unable to find the name of the man who does the introduction; but he speaks for four minutes, taking care of Sri Sri’s ethos. Sri Sri therefore doesn’t have to worry himself with that, but he does work on decorum. The introducer has a firm, decisive manner of delivery and Sri Sri immediately takes away the stridency and pace, in order that a quieter, calmer, almost somnolent atmosphere might prevail. Within a short while you could hear a pin drop.

I mentioned earlier the prevalence of his Q&A sessions to be found on line, and it quickly becomes evident that that is his favoured form of communication with audiences. He is not altogether happy in this speech environment. He meanders around with no real structure, or even message except the Peace and Brotherhood stuff that you might expect. He congratulates Israel on the success of its struggle for survival in the face of constant terrorism, indicating that India and Israel suffer more terrorism than all other countries.  He talks about gaining inner peace through good breathing habits.

Then, apparently becoming suddenly mindful of the title of his talk – Spirituality and Money – he starts talking about the economic crash which, at the time, was a very recent memory. He claims that it took less than ten months for capitalism to collapse. I can hear in my mind those who would stoutly maintain that it wasn’t capitalism that collapsed but corporatism.

For more than ten minutes he wanders in this vein; and then suddenly, as if from a hat, he produces at 14:45 a neat little tricolon. We need, he says, to …

  • secularise the religion
  • socialise the business
  • spiritualise the politics.

Not only I, but the audience are pleasantly startled at this sudden appearance of an emerging structure. They show it with a ripple of applause. For two and three quarter minutes he delivers a coherent tripartite message, fleshing out that tricolon. It’s the strongest part of the speech and concludes it.  At 17:30 he invites questions, and thereafter for 8 minutes he is in his element.

So if I go where angels fear to tread, odiously comparing him with Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, the latter unquestionably delivers a better speech. In terms of the relative wisdoms of their respective spiritual messages, delivered in whatever genre suits them, that is a completely different matter and light years beyond my competence.