Lord Lawson reads what needs to be said.

At the end of April 2014, Lord Lawson of Blaby gave a speech to the Institute for Sustainable Energy and the Environment at the University of Bath, in England. His being the Chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Lawson’s pronouncements on the subject of climate change usually excite a degree of interest, and this occasion was no exception.

You should not be too alarmed by the indication at the foot of the video that it lasts for nearly an hour and a half. Lawson’s speech ends at 46:30, and the rest is questions – quite robust ones by the way.

At the outset, Lawson asks for his briefcase, which had been placed in the care of someone else. He is duly delivered his script, from which he reads the entire speech. Some might say that he is not making a speech so much as presenting a paper, and I would tend to agree. The process that we witness is in every sense that of a talking head. We would get more out of it if we each were to read that paper to ourselves (till the onset of the questions). That way our minds would process the information at our own pace and rhythm, rather than his, with consequent greater understanding of what is argued. It’s the same phenomenon that makes the film of a book almost invariably inferior to the book.

If you would rather read it yourself, here is a transcript.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I would greatly prefer him not to have used a script. Using paper, even if as skilfully as Lawson, instantly robs your delivery of a substantial part of its persuasiveness.They will also expect me to claim that I could have enabled him to have dispensed with it, though they might not believe it.

One man, who would probably not have believed it last Wednesday, did a course with me on Thursday. He is a senior executive in a well-known British company. On Saturday he sent me an email. I have not sought his permission to identify him so I shall not do so.

What I failed to highlight on Thursday was that on Friday I was hosting an all day workshop with senior members of the xxxxxxxx team.  I had been having kittens for weeks.  Through the time in your course I was mentally whittling down the workshop from 20 slides, to 6, to 2.  That’s what I slept on, and eventually I conducted an 8 hour workshop with no slides and no notes.  I launched the day with a James Bond opening (an icebreaker) followed by a 15 minute speech on why we were there.  A speech with purpose!  What followed was a very lively and interesting workshop. I could not have done it without you.  You switched a light on, and I hope I can keep it alight in future presentations.

He will!

George Friedman dissects the decade

The Carnegie Council was addressed by George Friedman in January 2011 with a talk entitled The Next Decade. The video of the speech was not posted on YouTube till March this year.

I toyed between covering this speech and another he delivered to a Polish audience entitled Beyond the European Union: Europe in the middle of the 21st Century. The theme of that speech is the re-emergence of the nation state, and I commend it.  You can find it here. What caused me to settle on this one, though, is that as we are now a little more than three years into the decade in question we could watch the speech with a hindsight advantage of around 33%. I’m now not sure I was quite correct on this as the issues with which he dealt seem to be more open-ended than merely a decade.

The video tells you that it lasts just over an hour, but the speech finishes at 38:25 and the rest is questions.

The introduction by Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs for the Carnegie Council, makes it immediately clear that this speech is essentially a promotion of a book of the same name. Immediately my interest is raised, because there are two ways such a speech can be approached. You can either attempt to precis the whole book or you can cover just a part of it in enough detail to excite the audience into buying it to learn the rest. Clearly the latter is the better course because you win both ways: the audience hears a more interesting speech and you get to sell more books. It is a constant amazement to me how many authors foolishly go for the former option.

Within seconds of his starting (at 2:58) it seems clear to me that Friedman is probably adopting the second, more fruitful, course. I ruefully suspect that this will pull me in so much that I shall be diverted from concentrating on his speaking technique, but I resolve that  I shall keep my rhetor hat pulled down firmly over my ears for as long as I can.

What a glorious microphone technique he has! He speaks in barely more than a whisper, and we hear every word. Yes, the camera long-shots show that the room is not very large, but his speech to the Polish audience, mentioned in the second paragraph above, was in a very large hall and he spoke there not much more loudly. He has learnt how to speak quietly and expressively and make the microphone do the rest of the work.

He has a habit of alternating a serious facial expression with flashing little smiles – genuine ones that include the eyes, often to remove the sting when saying rather weighty and serious things. He may not thank me for saying so, but it puts me in mind of George W Bush who operates a similar technique.

I wonder why he needs the paper on the lectern: he barely ever looks at it. To write a book on a subject, you have to have immersed yourself to such a huge degree that shooting a speech such as this from the hip becomes very easy. I’m being picky: his focus is so firmly on the audience that essentially he is shooting it from the hip. I’m only as picky as this when speakers are very good.

Friedman is very good. This speech is fascinating. Yes, I see I noted a neat anadiplosis at 9.12, but frankly my rhetor hat had been thrown to the wind very early, and I was resolving to read the book. As a frank, searching analysis of America’s role in the world at the moment it identifies and leaves unanswered as many if not more questions than it answers; but that is the nature of the issues it addresses.

And the very first question after the speech showed that I was right: he had dealt with only a part of the subject in hand. The book is certainly worth reading.

Dennis Skinner – a class act.

When Tony Benn died in March 2014, his obituaries in the British main stream media were remarkable for the uniformity of their post mortem affection for him. To the political left he was a hero: to the political right he was mad, but everyone recognized the sincerity of his beliefs. He was widely heralded as one of the last of a dying breed of conviction politicians who actually meant what they said, and the absolute last of the left-wing firebrand parliamentarians. This was incorrect. There remains Dennis Skinner, who delivered a remarkable eulogy to Benn in the House of Commons.

The halting nature of his opening: is this genuine reluctance to speak or a clever piece of decorum creation? You decide. I rather think the latter.

Thank heaven for TV cameras in Parliament (I am old enough to remember the ferocious opposition to them). The meagre attendance in the Chamber means that this wonderful piece of speaking would have been largely wasted without this video making it available to posterity.

It really is outstanding.

I realize that there are times when some readers might find him so difficult to understand that they’d like subtitles. This will be particularly true of readers from outside the UK – but by no means exclusively. Skinner would not be Skinner without his Derbyshire accent, though his enunciation is excellent.

Essentially what we are watching is raconteurism of a very high quality. He narrates incidents connected with Benn, and does so with wonderful changes of tone-colour, rhythm, pace, volume, intensity, etc. One minute his fellow members of parliament are in hysterics, the next you can hear a pin drop.

I have nothing further to add. Enjoy it: it’s brilliant.