Peter Thiel: rich in substance

I came across this speech by Peter Thiel at the National Review Institute Summit. It is difficult to establish exactly when it was delivered, as the video was posted on YouTube on 14 March this year, whereas the National Review Institute website dates their summit on 16 & 17 March. One thing we can surmise from the introduction by Rich Lowry is that it took place very shortly after the Presidential Inauguration, and I reckon we are looking here at late January; though puzzlingly Thiel refers to Obama as ‘the current president’, and significantly never mentions him by name at all.

I was interested to witness a speech by Thiel, not just because he is a billionaire but because he is unusual in being a rare republican billionaire. I found other speeches, but chose to cover this one.

Rich Lowry’s introduction lasts six minutes, and he shoots it from the hip which pleases me. I am also pleased that he isn’t fawning completely over his introducee. He leaves us in no doubt that he is less than happy about the (then) very new Trump presidency, and Thiel had very publicly supported the Trump campaign. But then, they are both of the Right which is more tolerant than the Left.

Thiel also shoots from the hip. Perhaps his principal message is that for the past decade, or thereabouts, there has been a startling change in electronic human interaction; but in more substantive areas like energy, travel, manufacturing, the USA has lost what had appeared to be an irresistible momentum. He seems to put this down chiefly to everything being regulated to a standstill.

He is quite obviously highly intelligent and very well read, but the speech suffers here and there from being not clearly structured and therefore a little incoherent. He knows what he is trying to get across, but sometimes for us the thread is difficult to follow. He is a chess player of international standing, and if I try rather clumsily to use a chess metaphor it’s as if he is trying to describe a particular game to those of us unable to hold that many moves in our heads.

Some would say that this would have been solved by his having a script, and to a degree they’d be right, but the price would be a dreadful loss of spontaneity. Here is another of his speeches that is obviously read off a teleprompter; and it makes makes my point by being smooth, fluent and consequently rather tedious.

The choice is not either/or.  You can have both spontaneity and clarity. You just need to know how.

At 29:22 he closes his speech elegantly with a slightly distorted quote from Dylan Thomas; and then we move into Q&A, not with questions from the floor but an interview with Rich Lowry who introduced him.

Here, as so often happens with speakers like this, Thiel comes into his own. The questions provide him with the structure he needed earlier, and the result is clarity.

Thiel is a man who needs to be heard, because there’s so much substance there, but he also needs to be better understood.

 

 

 

 

Jacob Rees-Mogg: a long investment.

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. One of them was Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very fine speaker, so I haven’t wasted the opportunity to bring the speech here.

I enjoy listening to his speaking not only because of his articulacy, coherence, his skilful delivery, and so on but because I admire the man. The beautiful balance of his arguments is not artifice. His old-fashioned manners and cut-glass accent may suggest that he is cold, distant and out of touch, but his record dramatically belies that. There are examples of his having, for instance, courteously drawn the claws of quite hostile opponents on TV panel discussions.

He is introduced by Barry Legg, Chairman of this meeting and indeed of the Bruges Group. JRM, as I shall call him hereafter for brevity, begins just after the 4-minute mark though you may like to join at around 3:50 in order to understand his first sentence.

Preliminaries over, he tells his audience that if people take the trouble to come to these meetings, for whatever reason, he wants to engage with their arguments. He is as good as his word. At this same meeting there is disruption from invading protesters waving banners saying “Tories Out”. Before bouncers can evict them, JRM approaches one in order to exchange thoughts. You can watch the episode here.

Of course JRM uses no paper. At 6:38 a bell is heard tolling in the distance. He instantly utters a throw-away quip, being well rewarded with a laugh. This sort of spontaneity is one of the hallmarks of those who shoot from the hip. Audiences love both, and both are absurdly easy.

The speech was well received by the Twitterati at the time it was delivered. I am pleased to agree.

Evan Sayet says it

A friend tweeted a link to an article entitled He Fights, published in Townhall. The columnist was Evan Sayet. I commend the article.

Even when I disagree with expressed opinions I am always impressed when writers or speakers have the guts to skewer or bypass the fashionable flim-flam in which PC pieties clothe themselves, to go right to the core of a matter with ruthless muscularity. Evan Sayet takes no prisoners. Immediately I went looking for examples of his speaking, and found plenty. Here is perhaps the most recently posted. It was delivered only in August, at a picnic in Los Angeles hosted by The American Freedom Alliance.

I don’t know the precise circumstances of this speech, even his introduction by Karen Siegemund is cut short on this video, but clearly from the venue, his clothing, and the relaxed way he interacts with his audience this is a very informal gathering. My instinct is that his material is a series of road-tested modules which he is stitching together on the hoof. To many rookie speakers that would be magic: to one who has worked his apprenticeship it is actually not very difficult. I may be wrong, he may have spent many hours preparing it: when you are this good everything looks easy.

Be careful though, for anyone who is not this good it could be a pathway to disaster. Many months ago on this blog I gave a severe kicking to a British politician whose speech to a gathering in Dublin was a disgrace. He insulted his audience by having been too bloody idle to prepare at all.

I see little point in my telling you what Sayet says when he says it so well for himself. Nevertheless I would advise any British reader here, even if you don’t follow American politics his message translates very clearly indeed to the circumstances this side of the Atlantic.

 

 

 

Andrew Neil: the thickness of paper from brilliant.

In London on 16 October the Holocaust Educational Trust held its annual Appeal Dinner. Speaking was Andrew Neil.

The link on his name will take you where you can learn something about him if you don’t live in the UK and haven’t happened upon him. To that I would add that he can be a very tough interviewer and I have long found him to be one of the freer thinkers in the mainstream British media. True, the British media in general do not have that bar very high; but he sets standards that others could do worse than emulate.

Regular readers here will confirm that I have oft denied that being a good public speaker automatically follows being a good broadcaster or a good writer. Indeed I rather think that to span those media makes you an exception.

Those same regular readers will immediately know my first reaction. What’s he doing with that paper on that lectern? A good, skilled speaker does not need paper. Paper dulls the colour and impact of any speech. Occasionally it is sadly inevitable. Here it isn’t. What a pity!

He is showing symptoms of Hump. That doesn’t surprise me: his professional comfort zone is the lens of a camera which is very different from a sea of faces. Also, of course, that lens would have his script scrolling – and that is why he believes he needs paper here.

He opens by paying tribute to his introducer, Kitty Hart-Moxon, momentarily struggling against displaying emotion through his voice trembling. The emotion is genuine, the successful struggle likewise, and both are laudable. In that tribute it emerges that her introduction was a surprise to him, and that means that this section was unprepared and therefore not on that paper. It’s a beautiful, spontaneous moment, and shows how good he can be without paper. Already I am wishing he knew it.

He moves into recounting the circumstances of his invitation to speak here. He doesn’t need his paper for that, but still he looks at it because it’s a comfort blanket. That is followed by a story about a conversation with a malapropist after another speech. It’s quite amusing but he delivers it a little heavily. It needed a lighter touch and to be ‘thrown away’. My rhetor fingers twitch.

Once he hits the meat of the speech he is manifestly more confident, and the hump recedes. The message is well structured, but then it would be; it is well argued, but then it would be; he’s a very fine journalist after all. And to anyone with a brain, the importance of his message is self-evident. It is a very important speech, and almost a brilliant one.

Had I been there, and had a chance to speak with him afterwards, I would have liked to have taken issue with a couple of things he said; but that is almost by definition the purpose of such a speech. And actually I would have been more likely to have taken issue with his paper-dependence. For instance…

At 12:20 he removes his spectacles and for thirty seconds really looks at, really engages with, his audience. It’s by no means the first time he has raised his eyes, but that was essentially tokenism. For this half minute his delivery lights up. He has been speaking at, here he is speaking with. That’s what he should do all the time; and he could, easily.

If he reads this he won’t believe that: they never do till I show them.