Danah Zohar leaves us wanting more

Danah Zohar spoke at the India Today Conclave 2008. If you have happened upon this post of mine concerning Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, and if you clicked the link to the second half of the speech in question, you might have seen that following him was the speech that we are going to examine today. Zohar begins at 15:50.

Danah Zohar is a very skilled speaker. She structures her material very clearly: she shoots principally from the hip and speaks with passion. She adeptly deploys a range of rhetorical figures of speech, in particular anaphora, thus giving her delivery an elegance that is almost poetic. By any standards this is good speaking.

Why then do shots of the audience show us too many people fidgeting, and obviously not absorbed? Could it be that the assertion she quotes at 16:05 – “in India we love controversy” is mere wishful thinking?

I don’t think so. This is not controversial. It could be: it should be, but it comes out as frankly rather banal. Having given you, in one paragraph, my rhetor’s summary of the quality of her actual speaking I shall now doff my rhetor hat and look at her message from the standpoint of a seeker after truth – me. Her message is muddled and unconvincing.

At 16:30 as part of her opening she says –

“I don’t accept the division between the spiritual and the physical, and much of my words will be about how to use the dynamic interaction between the spiritual and the physical …”

I wonder whether she – or anyone else – can explain how there can be a “dynamic interaction” between two things which, not being divided, are therefore one.

Watching it, I mentally brushed this question aside, as I wanted to learn what she had to say; and at first I was thirstily soaking up the theory. I felt that here was a great deal upon which to ponder. I still think there is a great deal upon which to ponder, but that somewhere along the line she has partially lost her own plot – or at least she had on this day in 2008. I found myself developing an impression that the purity of her message had become contaminated by her need to develop a brand for the corporate speaking market.

As she worked her way down twelve essential principles, and as muddles and self-contradictions continued to appear all over the place, I began eagerly to hope that before the end she would draw threads together to explain. But midway through principle 8 – independence of thought – the video ran out in the middle of a sentence.

There is a well-established showbiz principle that I never tire of quoting to my trainees: “Always leave them wanting more”. Nevertheless I’ll bet you anything you like tha

Bob Geldof can speak – and does.

At the opening ceremony of the One Young World Summit 2014, held in Dublin in October, Sir Bob Geldof delivered a Keynote Speech.

If you click that link to One Young World you will see that the purpose of it is to address ‘Young Leaders’. My hackles immediately rise, for reasons that I made clear in this posting. I am wearily accustomed to finding such enterprises being vehicles to relay dangerous indoctrination. The first few seconds of this video seem to confirm my fears as one of the organisation’s founders mentions climate change as a ‘systemic challenge’ when in reality it is the most expensive political fraud of this or any age, as well as being a criminal distraction from real problems facing us. The systemic challenge is in the need to stop the nonsense now and then dismantle the appalling damage the scam is inflicting world wide – particularly on the poor. However I am made of stern stuff, and I am here to critique Bob Geldof’s speech, so I stick with it.

Before Geldof we see Kate Robertson beginning his introduction. Leaving aside the climate change nonsense, I can’t believe that Robertson is actually needing to read one little minute of data-light speaking off screens at her feet. She hands over to (I think) her co-founder David Jones. He likewise reads one minute … ditto, ditto, ditto. Come along guys: get a grip. This is pathetic!

Geldof strides purposefully to the lectern, clutching a sheaf of papers. I catch my breath. He mumbles something inconsequential and rather stupid while he fumbles his papers into some order, and then he lifts his face. At that point a transformation happens. It seems his papers are principally there for a light-hearted tour of the celebrities ranged behind him. It’s a good opening, a funny opening, and I forgive him the paper.

Then he launches into the proper part of the speech and that paper is forgotten.

I have been known to tell my trainees that an ounce of passion is worth a ton of technique. Sir Bob has both in abundance. With my rhetor hat on I sit and luxuriate in the quality of his speaking – which even, for heaven’s sake, includes a fleeting use of a Churchillian cadence. This speech, as a masterclass exemplar, could fuel a very long blog posting – and I will almost certainly return to it for that reason when I have more time. For the moment I simply invite you to watch and see how it should be done.

In terms of the content, I may believe him to be profoundly misguided here and there, more in his chosen remedies than in the identity of the problems (some of which are starkly obvious), but I have no doubt of his sincerity – a quality tragically lacking in public life. You can discuss, reason and argue with people who are sincere – and in the process claw your way closer to the truth. You can only walk away in disgust from insincerity.

You have to respect Sir Bob Geldof, both as a speaker and as a man. I cannot begin to tell you how fervently I hope that this forum lived up to the quality that he gave it.

Andrew Klavan pops

In March 2013 Andrew Klavan delivered a talk at a David Horowitz Wednesday Morning Club meeting in Los Angeles.

Klavan is the author of A Killer in the Wind. I came across him in one of his Revolting Truth videos while searching for interesting speakers.  Good writers often fail to make good speakers, as the techniques are subtly different.

For the purposes of this blog I was torn between two speeches. I settled on the one below, though this one is interesting too.

“I want to talk about sex and German philosophy.” Delivered at 0:45 this gives every appearance of Klavan laying out his stall. The audience falls about laughing, as he intended, but actually he does talk about sex and German philosophy.

Klavan has everything going for him as a speaker. He has a very good, wonderfully resonant, voice which he uses well. He has plenty to say because he is passionate about his message. He is not only articulate but coherent to a fault. He uses humour skilfully, inserting it fairly sparingly into the proceedings but delivering it well enough to harvest some very good laughs. Do you sense the probable advent of a “but”?


He is oblivious to a glaring fault. In my experience the world at large is oblivious (consciously at least) to this fault whenever it occurs – even though it is ubiquitous. I’ve mentioned it often in this blog before, but I will continue till audiences demand its elimination.

He pops. There: I’ve just ruined your enjoyment of this speech. He pops relentlessly. Now that you are conscious of it you will hear little else.

How big is that auditorium? I ask because it is possible that he is not amplified to the room, but the microphone is there only to provide a feed for this video. That being the case he is unable to hear the popping: the fault belongs to the sound engineer. That’s no excuse: if you aspire to being a competent speaker you should never let your mouth and the microphone point at each other. Never speak at a microphone, speak across it. Point the mic at your throat, your eyes, anywhere but at your mouth.

The world is full of ignorant bozos, masquerading as technicians, who are likely to point the microphone at your mouth (it happened to me only last week). Don’t put up with it! Reset the microphone. If the ignorant bozo argues (it happened to me only last week) educate him. Explain that when you utter a percussive consonant a fast-moving column of air is generated which, if it hits the diaphragm of the microphone head-on, will cause a ghastly popping sound. Don’t give way.

You may protest that if audiences don’t notice it doesn’t matter, so if only Brian would shut the … would be quiet about it everything would be OK.

They do notice: just not consciously. If Klavan’s mic were tipped just five degrees upwards he would make an infinitely cleaner and sweeter sound, and the audience would be happier. They might not know why, but they’d be happier.

Spread the word!


Gawain Towler shoots from the hip.

I recently had occasion to correct a small error that Gawain Towler, Chief Press Officer for UKIP, had made in a Tweet. I was pleasantly startled to receive a direct message in seconds, conceding the point. This sort of straightforward integrity doesn’t come down the political road too often these days, so when I had a moment I went searching for any speeches he might have made. Does this characteristic appear in his speaking? I found this …

We don’t see the very beginning, which is a pity. I always say that making a speech is like flying a plane insofar as the most difficult, hazardous, and revealing moments come during the takeoff and the landing. We are here denied the chance to witness his leaving the ground, though when we join him he is still climbing rapidly.

He’s nervous! That right hand on the back of his neck is a classic indicator. I’ve highlighted this before, perhaps most notably in the penultimate paragraph here. Also this whole opening is clunky as hell. It takes till around 1:30 before he begins to get into his stride. This could be simply because of hump, but that’s no excuse. If nerves have a habit of getting in the way of your first couple of minutes, then address the problem and bloody fix it! There are ways.

He has a hand-problem, and needs to find for himself a default position for his hands – one that feels and looks right. Crossing arms, as he does around the 2-minute mark, is a no-no.

I’m being a little harsh, but only in order to balance up the praise that is to follow.

He shoots the speech from the hip. Anyone who doesn’t know that this is an obsession of mine hasn’t read this blog much. People have told me they think it’s a risky circus trick. It is not a trick but dead-easy; and if you know how to do it properly it is at least as safe as reading from a script. The subliminal signals it sends to your audience are all positive – chiefly that of sincerity.

You may detest everything that Towler stands for, and disagree with every syllable he utters, but you surely cannot doubt that he is sincere. Here is a politician who, if you vote for him, you know what you will get. And that as a quality is scandalously rare these days among the dung-beetles that pass for politicians.

(No: ‘dung-beetles’ is wrong. Dung-beetles actually clean up the stuff they clamber over.)

The main body of this speech is a good bit of speaking. He establishes a decorum that works, and puts across a clear and unambiguous message. His style is that of ‘conversational sincerity’ which is what the market favours these days. If I were advising him I would like to help him sort out his hump, his opening, and find a default position for his hands. I would want to help him structure his material a little better to add clarity. I would meddle with essentially nothing else. But actually I reckon he’s perfectly equal to sorting these things out for himself

His takeoff was dodgy – what of his landing? His landing was an epistrophe on the word “better”. It was a little beauty!

Piers Corbyn drowns us in data

At the Electric Universe  2014 Conference in Albuquerque in March, there was a talk given by Piers Corbyn. He is the Managing Director of WeatherAction whose long-range forecasting accuracy makes the Meteorological Office look like they read tea-leaves.

I have been known in this blog to complain about those in the Climate Debate who fail to show any workings but merely rely on argumenta ad verecundiam, populum or hominem. From what I’ve seen of him before, Piers Corbyn was unlikely to waste our time that way.  Shall we see?

Brits who are old enough will remember Dr Magnus Pyke. He was a scientist who made a name for himself by appearing on TV, breaking all the normal rules for TV presenters, and being compulsive watching. For years I held him up as an example to prove that ultimately there are no rules. To a degree Piers Corbyn is cast in the Pyke mold. He doesn’t wave his arms around in the same manic fashion, but he is manic with data.

He needs someone like me to throw all his appallingly wordy slides into the dustbin. What is that monstrosity that covers his arrival onstage? If I were advising him I would declare roundly to his face that none of his slides are as interesting or informative as the words he utters, so burn the lot. He might disagree, and the consequent argument might conclude with his saving one or two, but we’d have weeded out a lot of crap.

That globe, on the other hand, with its ridiculous piece of plastic piping to represent the jet-stream and with which he gets hilariously entangled, is wonderful. I love it, plastic piping and all

I would also struggle to organize and structure his data in a way that would give a lay audience a remote chance of understanding some of it. Showing your workings is one thing, but this gets close to death-by-data. The stuff gushes out of him in an incontinent flood. There is one beneficial byproduct: you find yourself concentrating fiercely in the hope of catching the occasional morsel that ricochets out of the cascade, and bit by bit you sort-of understand.

And actually that’s all that matters. He gets across his message. He also gets across his contempt for climate alarmism, which we all knew he would – given that he shows his workings.

The speech is as messy as all hell, but it almost works.

Julia Middleton of Common Purpose gives me the creeps

At the 2014 CSCLeaders programme, there was a talk by Julia Middleton. She was the founder and CEO of Common Purpose. CSCLeaders is run by Common Purpose and is the current incarnation of the Commonwealth Study Conferences founded by HRH Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1956.

I’ve been trying to work out what it is about this woman’s speaking that gives me the creeps. Surely it’s more than the fact that the head of a company that trains business people should be capable of delivering a speech without cue cards. I wonder if she uses them because she enjoys the little repetitive ritual of donning and doffing her spectacles? Is it to give her hands something to do? At any rate I trust that public speaking is not on their curriculum, or this glaring shortcoming places huge question marks over the rest of what they teach.

I know very little about Common Purpose except what I have gleaned from their website; but what I see makes me uneasy. For one thing there’s an incontinent splashing-around of the word ‘leader’. It’s a good word that does not deserve to be thus cheapened by over-use. I detest it when politicians use it for themselves, and it’s not just because I happen to know the German and Italian translations of “The Leader”. Politicians are people delegated by the rest of us to run things – and by “things” I mean as little as is absolutely necessary. When politicians assume the title of ‘leader; it seems to coincide with their arrogating the right to stick their grubby fingers into matters that are none of their business. And anyway, it is up to others to bestow the ‘leader’ title upon someone. Assuming the title for yourself is gauche and a nonsense.

Back to Julia Middleton and her speech (btw she calls herself a leader). Within the first minute she indulges in hagiolatry with respect to her father. It was cringe-making when Margaret Thatcher did it, it is no less so here. There is nothing wrong with passionate admiration for a parent, but keep it to yourself. If you want to quote them in a speech call them “someone I used to know” – or some-such.

Middleton employs a device beloved of George W Bush to draw the sting from a comment believed to be otherwise too harsh. It’s a phony smile that doesn’t extend to the eyes. She deploys it first at 2:33, and my toes curl.

The content of the first half – or thereabouts – of the speech concerns ‘core’ and ‘flex’. If you are desperate to know more watch the speech, but they are merely the sort of elementary concept that you find in self-help books at the lower end of the market. There: I’ve just saved you around ten minutes of your valuable time.

She then swings into the subject of a book she appears to have written on the subject of ‘cultural intelligence’. Intelligence can mean mental acuity or information acquired covertly. This is neither. Having forced myself to yawn and wince my way through this I can best sum up ‘cultural intelligence’ as a rather flabby variety of relativism. That’s another ten minutes I’ve saved you.

At 26:42 “I thought last night, and I thought ‘what are the eight things I’m going to suggest to them…”

What, in heaven’s name, is the value of a list that starts out with an arbitrary number of empty spaces which you then set about filling? A proper list creates itself the other way round with a range of items which you then count and write down. This is pitiful!

What really bothers me is that the above list is intended to help the audience embark on a week of this sort of thing. Who the hell is so under-employed that they can afford to throw away a week of subjecting themselves to such pointless garbage? You’ve got to be a bit of a lame-brain, a masochist, or an exceedingly conscientious blogger, to sit through this 35 minutes. I actually sat through it twice, not quite believing that it could be quite as awful as I’d thought. That counts as ‘above and beyond the call of duty’.

Anyone in that audience with genuine leadership qualities as distinct from being a sad little individual, desperate to belong to a self-satisfied clique of similar souls, would demonstrate it by making their excuses and leaving for the real grown-up world.