Lew Rockwell: a wise head, but a talking one.

At the end of January 2016 in Houston, Texas, the Mises Institute hosted a conference at which one of the speakers was the Institute’s founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.

I quite often receive, from past trainees, panic emails about the pitfalls involved in introducing important speakers. They are right to be concerned, because it can be a minefield, but I shan’t burden you here with all the guidelines. There is, though, one very simple principle. The more important the guest, the shorter should be the introduction. Jeff Deist, President of the Mises Institute, clearly knows this rule. He’s gone inside 20 seconds.

When Rockwell begins it takes even less time for me inwardly to groan, because he is reading a script. I may one day devote here an entire post to why speakers should never read a script, but for the moment let me list some aspects of audience-engagement which are damaged by script-reading: credibility, fluency, perceived sincerity, comprehensibility, flexibility, nerve-control, and perceived command of the subject. How’s that for starters? Also – and I admit this is counter-intuitive – if you know what you are doing paperless speaking is safer, much safer, and I’ll defend that opinion to anyone.

Rockwell is a good writer, and I’d love to read this speech, but writing and speaking are completely different disciplines and it is ridiculously hard work listening to it. And this opinion comes from a maverick-by-nature who agrees with nearly everything that Rockwell stands for.

From his own site I found my way to a podcast on which he was interviewed. I was not in the least surprised to find that – shooting from the hip – he was expressive, fluent and coherent to a degree that was unrecognisable from this agonisingly stilted talking-head reading. Furthermore in that podcast he sounded relaxed and at ease, whereas in this speech I am picking up stress symptoms almost to the end.

So why is he reading a script? The answer, in this context, is ironic. He is conforming to an established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Thou shalt write and read thy speeches! The Mises Institute, this conference, this speech, indeed Lew Rockwell himself are all about resisting established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Do you understand therefore why I tear my hair in frustration? One hour over a video-link would be more than enough for me to set him free from that paper tyranny.

A conference from the Mises Institute is nevertheless a treat for me.  I shall stick with it, and pray that another speaker actually speak to us.

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