On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.
Taking speakers in the same sequence as in the conference, we have thus far watched speeches from Henryk Broder from Germany and Vebjørn Selbekk from Norway. Today’s speaker is from Britain. He is a man who has appeared on this blog so often that it is almost time to give him his own parking space. The last time was only two weeks ago. He is Douglas Murray.
Excellent speaking is nigh impossible to define. It is this intangible, illusive thing that I earn my living helping people to help themselves to achieve. It is built on a fiendishly complex alchemy of being yourself, answering your audience’s perception of you, engaging with them at as high a level as possible, and offering your case with maximum clarity and digestibility so that even if the audience disagrees with your message they understand your arguments. If you can do all that while still entertaining you are getting somewhere. Defining it may be difficult, but you know it when you see it. For me this speech gets about as close as you can get.
I am not alone. Listen for other sounds in the room. Occasionally there’s a response when he wants there to be – a little laugh here, some applause there – but otherwise there is pin-drop silence. People simply want to listen to him – as do you, so you will not welcome this exercise (but unlike the audience in the hall you can wind back and re-listen).
Regular readers of this blog are accustomed to my castigating speakers for using scripts or even notes, so they might expect me to point out that Murray sometimes lowers his eyes to the lectern. I tell my trainees, as I also tell readers of my book, The Face & Tripod, that sometimes you have to be prompted by paper – e.g. you have so many speaking engagements that you cannot keep all those different mind-maps in your head. Those who have learned how to speak without the aid of paper, handle paper better than those who haven’t. Murray’s few glances downwards never interfere with the astonishingly tight bond he has with his audience. He really owns them.
When, at 22:20, his speech finishes and his Q&A session begins you may find yourself so spellbound that you listen to all that too. I did.