Ruth Deech: an expressive reader

My previous post was of a speech made at the UN Watch Gala Dinner 2018. I later explored further into such speeches, and found Baroness Deech speaking at the Gala Dinner in May of 2017.

I am a quiet admirer of hers, and the causes she espouses. I also like that she is content to be described as a politician while sitting as a Cross-bench peer. When people idly imply that if it isn’t partisan it isn’t politics I want to bang heads. On the contrary, if all parties agree on a viewpoint it usually warrants more careful scrutiny.

In her opening acknowledgements Deech mentions “Hillel”. He is the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, and you may confidently expect him to appear in this blog before long.

This is an excellent and valuable speech, but she is reading it. She is being a talking head.

Many defenders of that practice, including (so help me!) some public speaking trainers, argue that without a script speakers will not find the best words to utter. I have spent the past quarter of a century proving that to be nonsense. I have videoed trainees reading their sample speech, then tinkered both with the structure of the speech and with the speaker’s mindset, and then videoed the speech delivered again shooting entirely from the hip. The result is more fluent, more animated, more engaging, and it employs phrasing, vocabulary and figures of speech at least as good as the script it replaces.

Yes there can be stumbles just as in ordinary conversation, but stumbles from a speaker shooting from the hip are intrinsically more audience-friendly than stumbles from someone mis-reading. Do you want an example of the latter? It’s a tiny one, but you don’t get this particular type of stumble from someone shooting from the hip. Listen to Deech slightly tripping over the word “in”. It occurs at 0:58.

The presence of that script throws up a screen between speaker and audience. In this case it’s a very thin screen, because Deech is a much better and more expressive reader than most, but still her delivery would soar if she knew how to dispense with that script, and had been shown that she could trust herself to speak spontaneously.

Another argument that is put up in favour of scripts concerns security of timing. Again it’s nonsense. Suppose on an impulse you throw in a digression – which, being spontaneous and shot from the hip, will probably be the best bit of the speech – then suddenly you are destined to over-run. Being shackled to a script you are running on rails so skipping a section is very problematic, so you start speaking faster, which is disastrous. Speaking fast makes you less intelligible and is futile: the time it saves is negligible. If you are shooting the whole speech from the hip you can skip a section easily.

In today’s world where formal oratory is virtually extinct and the ubiquitous fashion is for ‘conversational sincerity’, scripts are the speaker’s enemy.

Back to the subject of timing, any long-term regular reader of this blog will know that I castigate conference organisers who do not provide a clock for speakers to check their timing. At 05:23 we see a shot that shows, placed on the floor in front of the lectern, a large digital clock counting down. A bouquet for UN Watch!

 

Maajid Nawaz: suitably impassioned

In February 2015 I covered a series of short speeches at an important debate about anti-semitism. One of the speakers was a Muslim, and I made him Man of the Match despite the competition including to my mind one of the finest speakers around.

Maajid Nawaz has since been on this blog a couple of times, because I have been following his progress with interest, and not just as a speaker. He has developed very impressively.

At the UN Watch 2018 Gala Dinner in Geneva in May, Nawaz was presented with the 2018 Morris B. Abram Human Rights Award. His acceptance speech tells his story.

For years I have favoured the bald opening, for strength, for impact, and for busting the hump and, however sceptical at first, all my trainees when they try it find I’m right. But what do you do when protocol and your natural gratitude insists that you thank people? That is when the James Bond film opening comes into its own. If I had advised him Nawaz would have begun with a bald “I will briefly summarise …”, which currently comes in at 0:25, and hold back the thanks in his preamble till after the applause which begins at 0:44. It would have made the opening as strong as the rest of the speech, and been easier to deliver.

And strong is what the speech is. He easily shoots it from the hip, because three quarters of it is structured just on chronology, which is ridiculously simple (who can’t remember their life story?) and therefore effective. The last quarter deals with far-left extremism having infiltrated previously respectable institutions, like Her Majesty’s Opposition in Britain.

Another such institution is the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC have preposterously declared Nawaz and also Ayaan Hirsi Ali, both Muslims and both fighting Muslim extremism, to be anti-Muslim extremists. Nawaz is fighting them through the courts, and raising money for this through his website.

I am very glad I watched this speech. It is powerful, suitably impassioned, coherent, articulate and important. It also alerted me to the work being done by UN Watch. We’ll be hearing more from them on this blog.

Ann Coulter shows no pretence

I  found myself looking at almost identical tag lines for two speeches by the same person but at different venues, “Ann Coulter just gave an OUTSTANDING Speech, gets standing ovation”. I just had to watch this paragon. The two speeches turned out to be very similar, but the video of one of them was a bit of a technical mess, so I chose the other which was less of a mess though the camera work was sloppy.

Ann Coulter has been described as the undisputed star of the rightwing American loudmouths, and while preparing this posting I watched her fillet Jeremy Paxman without breaking sweat.

The speech that I chose to cover here was at the Oxford Union, not normally regarded as a hotbed of right wing extremism, and I was fascinated to see how they took to her uncompromising approach to her opinions.

Coulter brings newness. President Trump is possibly the most polarising figure I can remember, and people’s attitude towards him has become tedious. I suffer from Trump fatigue to such an extent that when his name gets mentioned I want to be somewhere else. Trump haters will not hear a word on his behalf, not even over the promising developments in North Korea. Trump lovers will not hear a word against him. I’d given up waiting for an evaluation of his presidential progress that wasn’t buried under bigotry.

Here we have someone who, in her own words, is holding his feet to the fire. Very much a supporter she is nevertheless highly critical of him. I don’t have to agree with her to find that refreshing.

Her speaking style is likewise refreshing, being stripped of pretence. She just talks! Her focus is where it should be – on her message and her audience, she has plenty to say and she keeps it simple. I enjoy listening.

I also enjoy transatlantic echoes. In the early days of this blog I went out looking for speeches beyond British shores, many of them American, and got mildly involved in American politics. Despite the differing political systems the similarities with Britain are almost spooky. It was not mere chance that the Brexit vote and Trump’s election occurred within a few months of each other: both nations were facing similar fundamental issues. As an example, take a sentence that Coulter utters as part of her explanation for Trump’s electoral victory…

For twenty years both political parties have been lying to us…

From the evidence of this video Coulter didn’t get a standing ovation. The audience did laugh a couple of times, but in the main greeted the speech in respectful and thoughtful silence, applauding at the end. If they departed the hall disagreeing with every word she spoke, they didn’t do it from ignorance. They heard her out, probably learnt something, and that’s the value of free speech.

 

John Redwood: a Speaker’s speaker

In 2011 the Speaker of the British House of Commons, John Bercow, launched a series of lectures in aid of a parliamentary charity. On 20 February 2018, the lecture was delivered by John Redwood MP

You need only look at that still image below to see where Redwood’s eyes are pointing. He is reading his speech. You probably expect me to castigate him for this, and though I shall examine how much better he would have delivered it without a script I shall not castigate him because he is subject to one of the few sets of circumstances whereby a script is necessary. More of that anon.

John Bercow’s introduction is well delivered. I have some reservations concerning the sightly self-conscious content; but he fulfils one of my prime delivery requirements, namely that he speaks with his audience as distinct from at.

Of the many parliamentary positions John Redwood has held, he has yet to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why on earth do I bring this up?

I mentioned earlier that there are circumstances when a script becomes regrettably necessary for a speaker. In my book I cited those occasions when someone has been supplied with a transcript, because you kinda need to say what that transcript does. (The Speaker’s office publishes these lectures.) I then added a brief advice section on how best then to handle paper, including everything from layout on the page to how to avoid needing to lick your finger all the time.

Redwood turns over his pages which is needlessly clunky. It is smoother to have your pages printed on just one side, sitting in a pile of loose sheets which you simply slide one at a time across the lectern. This lectern is wide enough. That technique is customarily employed every year in the House of Commons during the delivering of the budget speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Redwood has never been Chancellor, and I rather feel that he and scripts are relative strangers. A good thing too.

Redwood speaks well without the aid of a script. I’ve seen him do it, not least when he appeared in this blog before. We see here the huge lift in the quality of communication at 11:40 when he departs from his script to recount an experience. For a minute and a half we see his unmasked personality shining out before he returns to being a talking head.

It’s a very good speech, and I know that the word ‘lecture’ strictly means a reading, but it is a pity when a man who communicates so well is forced by circumstances to operate under the tyranny of paper.

Ann McElhinney made me weep.

Texas Alliance for Life hosted, in Austin on 5 October, 2017, a talk from Ann McElhinney. If you click the link on her name you will reach a page devoted to both her and Phelim McAleer, her husband. The pair are a formidable and fearless team dedicated to investigative journalism and the search for truth behind news stories, and it was a close race as to which of them would be examined in this posting. Phelim will undoubtedly feature before very long.

She is speaking both on the book they wrote about Kermit Gosnell and also their film on the same subject.

There’s something about the Irish accent! Perhaps it’s just memories of happy times I have spent there, but for me the sound is immediately friendly. Phelim, her husband, has Northern Irish vowels but she is clearly from the Republic, west coast I reckon.

Her start is likewise audience-friendly. This sort of apparently scatty sorting-out of technical bits and pieces is a great way of fighting nerves. I tell trainees that relaxing your audience is a very effective way of relaxing yourself. She has an important opening question for her audience, but she camouflages its weight behind the performance of technical faffing around. Scatty she ain’t! This is one smart woman. Friendly she may be, but only if you are on the side of the angels.

Silence from the audience in response to a brief and unexplained section beginning at 04:10 referring to Representative Murphy shows that this Texas audience doesn’t know the story. If you want enlightenment you could start by looking here.

This is my type of speaker! She has notes to which she refers for slides and things, but essentially her speaking is all shooting from the hip. Even more important than that is that I detect no vestige of speech mode. What you see is what you get, and what you get is the genuine person. She lets all her idiosyncrasies hang out, because she couldn’t care less about herself: all that matters is her message and whether her audience is getting it. That is the ideal speaker’s mindset, and it is what makes her so powerful. Could she tidy up the structure? Perhaps a tiny bit, but the narrative thread is so strong that we are swept over all the bumps in the road.

And the road certainly is bumpy! This is not a pretty story, but by heaven it’s an important one. On this blog over the years, in 360+ postings, I have covered some very valuable speeches. I rate this in the top three, maybe higher. People absolutely need to learn what she has to tell.

Watch this speech, and at the end you may find yourself like me in a puddle of tears.