Ben Shapiro and an amazing speech

At Christmas, I suddenly saw a posting on Twitter to the effect that Ben Shapiro had delivered “an amazing speech and received a standing ovation”. I was immediately interested, as I had read many articles by him and had watched bits of speeches which had been disrupted so much by protesters that it had been impossible for me to evaluate. Nevertheless I had been impressed by the former, and guardedly so by the latter. Was this the opportunity to critique him properly? Where and when was this speech?

The answers were (a) yes, and (b) I haven’t been able to find out. But here it is…

We join it halfway through a sentence, yet the speech apparently hasn’t started.  The sentence that follows gives us the title of the speech, ‘Why Freedom Succeeds While Collectivism Fails‘. He is pitting freedom against collectivism; not capitalism versus socialism or right versus left, but freedom versus collectivism. I find that interesting. The right/left dichotomy has actually become blurred and corrupted when so many institutions automatically classify anything wrong as right wing. I have even heard Stalin’s pogroms described as a right wing policy. Likewise the terms capitalism and socialism come these days much confusing baggage. I am impressed that Shapiro skirts all this so neatly.

And he needs to. He needs there to be no doubt what he is saying because he takes no prisoners while saying it. This is blunt! We have become so accustomed to politicians and commentators being mealy mouthed and smothered in caveats, particularly when criticising the left – sorry, collectivism, that it is a little startling to hear Shapiro say that this collectivism is evil. He’s right, of course, but we’re not used to hearing it.

He even dares to say that this collectivism has evil intent, and he will prove it by itemising how it breaks each of the Ten Commandments. I immediately smile with professional approval because a structure like that is a gift to a speaker provided he knows the Commandments by heart. Shapiro, wearing a Yamaka, seems to stand a good chance.

Then why does he keep looking down at the lectern? Does he need prompting? No of course he doesn’t: the lectern is a comfort blanket. It’s a pity, because those periods when we lose his eyes, albeit momentarily, take the edge off his effectiveness.

I don’t mean those occasions when it is absolutely correct to read from the lectern, for instance when he quotes someone – there are a few occasions when he does –  I mean those glances down when we know he didn’t need to.

Another thing that takes away some of his edge is the rapidity with which he speaks. I can’t even believe I’m saying this because I am rabidly in favour of speakers being themselves, warts and all, and I am sure this is not nervous gabbling  but simply the way he naturally speaks. But too much gets lost. He loses a couple of laughs and one or two moment of impact because the audience didn’t quite catch what he said.

But for all that, this is indeed an amazing speech. He well deserves his standing ovation.

 

Roger Scruton: not at all bad

When I saw that the Oxford Union had just posted online a video of Professor Sir Roger Scruton delivering to them a talk followed by Q&A, I was eager to watch it.

For some reason his writings have thus far passed me by, but I heard him in a lengthy interview on a friend’s podcast recently and I was in equal measure impressed with him and disappointed with myself for having not properly encountered him ages ago. He’s a couple of years older than I, we share roughly the same amount of hair, of roughly the same shade, and of comparable disorder. He can’t be all bad.

He’s a writer.

All too often on this blog I have raged against those who read their speeches, but I shall not with him because he has bridged much of the huge gap between the written and the spoken word. He has evidently worked at being able to restrict himself to mere occasional glances at his paper, so our losing his eyes from time to time does not drastically impede the quality of his delivery. Likewise he has prepared this almost entirely in spoken, rather than written, English.

Nevertheless there remains the intensity of detail. This is structured as a piece of writing. If you were reading it you could stop and ponder a section before moving on to the next. You could also re-read passages. We here can pause the video, or rewind to review, but the audience in the hall can’t. Any lapse of concentration and what they miss they miss for ever.

It needs broader brush-strokes. It needs the flow of data to be slowed down from time to time. It needs to be blocked out in a fashion that anyone could follow. I know the audience consists of not anyone, but very accomplished students, but I also know from experience that academic prowess doesn’t make you immune to data overload. I’m afraid he does periodically lose some of his audience: we can hear it in the coughing. They’re missing some brilliant stuff!

I felt myself itching to rebuild the speech from the ground up, restructuring in a way that enabled him to dispense entirely with paper and the audience not to miss a syllable.

That said, he inserts some lovely touches of humour from time to time and the audience welcomes the opportunity to relax and regroup: the coughing recedes. During the Q&A, he obviously has no choice but to shoot from the hip and of course this is when we see the power of his delivery at its best. At its best it is extremely good.

Even at its worst it is not at all bad.

 

 

 

Monica Crowley and freedom.

In May 2014, fairly early in the recent Presidential election campaign, Oconomowoc in Wisconsin was the venue for a speech by Monica Crowley.

About eighteen months ago I hugely enjoyed a short season of seeking out and critiquing some ballsy speeches by American women who had the ability and courage to speak their minds. How on earth did I miss Monica Crowley?

A bald opening!  I love bald openings. When I recommend to my trainees that they give them a try, I am very often met with incredulity. This is because people assume that waffling through a period of largely meaningless preamble is a good way to smooth your way in. I counter with pointing out that creeping slowly down the steps into a cold swimming pool seems like a good way to smooth your way in, but isn’t.

One ingredient in many preambles is an audience schmooze. Crowley understands its value, but instead of opening with it before the audience has fully settled she holds it back for half a minute, primes them a little and then hits them. You may find it icky, you may roll your eyes, but you’re not in that audience. She has timed and tailored it specifically to that audience, they love it, and she knew they would. We’re watching a pro at work.

The move from the schmooze to the serious business is seamless. You can’t see the join, but you can hear how suddenly the audience has gone quiet. She’s got them where she wants them and they are listening. She’s good!

Some of her message is tough, but she contrives never to sound tough. Brimful of conviction, strong on facts and logic, but always approachable not tough.

It’s an impressive speech. She has sincerity and passion, and she knows how to use both to put the moral case for freedom.