Anika Penn nails it!

Since I began this blog in November 2012 it has presented me with rewards that went way beyond the obvious. It spurred me into exploring ways technology could enable me to work with people at a distance, and as a result my experience has been enriched by good friends in other parts of the world. One of the principal agents in this is Duncan Goldie-Scot, a tireless entrepreneur who is helping to open up the developing world by founding, backing, nurturing and incubating micro-businesses . And micro-businesses don’t stay micro.

In February of this year Duncan emailed me an introduction to Anika Penn, a bright young New Yorker with a new company that he was backing. She was going to need to pitch to investors, and could use my help.

Anika and I had three one-hour Skype sessions over the next couple of weeks, after which there was a pause while she travelled to Kenya where her business was being piloted. I expected us to speak again on her return, putting finishing touches to her pitch with anecdotal material from her Kenya trip. I reckoned without Anika’s flair and determination. From Kenya I received an email with a link to this.

I was bowled over, as was Duncan who had also received that email. She told us only that she had filmed it on the roof of a community centre in Kibera.

I habitually give to people, planning to do something on camera, a strange piece of maverick, counter-intuitive advice. Don’t be too comfortable. An element of peripheral stress can distract your mind into forgetting to introduce some of those inhibitions that get in your way. I hadn’t told this to Anika because it hadn’t come up: I thought we were preparing a pitch to a live audience. Anika had just decided to run with the ball her own way; and it looked to me as if the blustering wind had provided some of that peripheral stress. I didn’t know the half of it.

When she was back in New York we arranged another Skype chat. I was eager to find out all about this.

As I said earlier, this job has its rewards.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is not worrying

Every so often, finding myself in need of reflection and spiritual refreshment of a different kind, I like to examine talks concerning Eastern Wisdom. So it was that I found myself watching Sri Sri Ravi Shankar talking about Karma. This is not his first visit to these pages.

I thought Karma was simply a spiritual judgmental philosophy: behave yourself or else! How wrong I apparently was.

Mr rhetor hat is never far away. My passion for my work is such that though intending merely to soak up what he is saying I can’t help but register how he is saying it. Look at the way he lays out his stall so clearly in the first minute and a half. And look at how it leads like silk into the next section where he makes the distinction between good Karma and bad Karma, how the one can be used to drive out the other, but how even the good Karma must then be rinsed away.

“Rinsed.”  I had to use that verb – he made me. He weaves a vey clever parallel, beginning at 5:55, to explain why even good Karma must be evicted from your mind for you to be completely at rest.

His pace seems almost glacially slow, made slower by huge pauses, yet he explains more in twenty quiet minutes than I have often seen imparted in twice as many frenetic ones.

I love his final message. Having led us through a labyrinth of what Karma is, is not, and how best to cope with it, he finishes by saying, “Don’t worry about it.”

It is a little like my training. I very often say to my trainees that when you boil it all down this is just talking. And so it is. Don’t worry about it.

Michelle Malkin and her big mouth

While I was doing a little background research for my recent posting on Brigitte Gabriel I came across another outspoken American woman – a self-proclaimed “big mouth”.  My not having previously come across her is evidence that the Atlantic is still quite wide.

I have been having fun, watching several speeches by Michelle Malkin and trying to choose which to cover. This one is the longest, this perhaps the most temperate and measured, but I chose this one. She is speaking at a dinner in her honour where she was presented with the second annual Breitbart Award. The hosts are the Heritage Foundation and the Franklin Center for government and public integrity

In the first few seconds it emerges that she has been up since 2 a.m. and has drunk lots of coffee. My interest quickens, because an element of peripheral stress can bust the hump and often adds edge to a speech. Also if the way she tells us of the coffee is a guide, this lady is going to tell it like it is by way of a polished repertoire of speaking devices.

I am not disappointed: she’s very good. Yes, of course she’s shooting from the hip – all good speakers do – but there’s more. Look at that beautiful claptrap at 5:45. She hits the word “fight” paying particular attention to the “t” and immediately looks down. The audience applause comes bang on cue. There are plenty more successful claptraps. Yes I know she’s among friends, but still she’s playing the audience brilliantly.

And those pauses! She creates great gaping holes in the soundtrack which serve to heighten our interest in what’s coming next.

She’s a hell of a good communicator. Because I have now watched a great many of her speeches and interviews I have seen how well she either varies her style and rhythm to the prevailing decorum or – more often – creates her own to suit the occasion.

Her self-deprecating self-description “big mouth” is a bit of fun. She’s worked very hard at her speaking skill, which is fairly unusual among writers who too often regard speaking as merely a subdivision of writing. It is not: it is different in very many ways. I salute her.

Milo smiles at all his foes

On 9 February, 2016, at Rutgers University, there was a lecture by Milo Yiannopoulos.

This is a difficult man to pigeonhole. You can’t even easily describe his appearance as he keeps changing his hair. He appears to be a dandy, fop and dilettante – in fact his current image puts me in mind of Gabriel, the master criminal played by Dirk Bogarde in Modesty Blaise, possibly the campest movie ever made. As far as I know Milo is not a master criminal, but like Gabriel he camouflages his purpose behind a mask that he doesn’t take seriously.

He describes himself in various ways, but chiefly as libertarian, and in favour of free speech. He fearlessly seeks out opportunities to prick the pious pomposities so beloved of the chatterati, like when he compared modern feminism to cancer.

Western students, with their preposterous “Safe Spaces” in which the poor vulnerable snowflakes cower from any philosophy more challenging than chewing gum, are natural targets for him. American universities have this disease worse even than those in the UK, so that is where he has been conducting lectures in what he calls the Dangerous Faggot Tour (yes, he’s gay). Those that have sought to no-platform him have shot themselves in the foot, as he regards such bans as trophies to wave aloft – just as he contrived huge mileage out of Twitter trying to silence him. He is a phenomenon that has amassed a huge and devoted following, and is one of those rarities universally known by just their first name – like Boris (and Gabriel).

For all his fluffy narcissism, Milo knows his stuff and is articulate. Many TV programmes that have arranged for him to be cut down to size in fierce debate have watched him vanquish tough adversaries, because he handles himself well. The boy can play.

How’s his public speaking?

The short answer is that it is not as good as his verbal close combat.

I can say this partly because he sets the bar very high with the latter, but also it’s because he doesn’t trust himself enough. Knowing from experience that he can cope with anything that an opponent aims at him, he seems to feel that he needs that. The opponent’s thrusts and lunges cue his responses.

Look at the glee with which he works the audience at the beginning. Look at how later he defends himself from the heckling in the hall. He uses smiles, laughter and over-camp outrage. Never does he flatter the hecklers by appearing offended. This is all close-combat stuff, writ large, and he’s in his element.

Now watch from 3:25. At this stage we are moving into a script: you can hear much of the spontaneity depart. He is conscious of it as well, which is why he punctuates it as often as he can with audience interaction. It’s a good device, but he shouldn’t need the device. He camps around here and there in scripted sections to colour them spontaneous. It doesn’t quite succeed.

The easiest way to sound spontaneous – arguably the only way to sound spontaneous – is to be spontaneous

If he structured the speech in a way that gave him a clear route to follow, and then trusted himself to find spontaneously the right words at the appropriate time, then he would sound spontaneous. Also the camping-around would look spontaneous also – it doesn’t always quite do so here.

At 15:35 the speech falls apart. From watching another posted video, apparently taken with a mobile phone, I can tell you that there’s a minor demonstration and walk-out. After several minutes of uproar he abandons the speech and goes to Q&A.

Now he is in his comfort zone. At 21:04 he answers his first question. Now he trusts himself to speak spontaneously; and his three minute answer, shot from the hip, is brilliantly expressed – a little more graphically than some audiences might want, but he is playing to that audience. Furthermore, in that three minutes he explains why he is uniquely qualified to conduct his Dangerous Faggot campaign.

If the set-piece part of the speech had been as good as those three minutes, his campaign would be even more effective. It could easily be. It would need very little work.