Richard Dreyfuss and Civics

It’s just talking!  My public speaking trainees probably get sick of my saying that, but it’s true. Yes, there are things to learn in terms of optimising your material for impact, digestibility, and memorability. There are devices for coping with nerves, for grabbing and holding the audience’s attention, and so on. But strip away all the mystique, and it’s just talking.

Therefore when an interviewee on a TV programme holds forth for a couple of minutes on an important subject I regard it as public speaking as much as if he were on a platform in an auditorium. It is also just talking.

In April 2017, Tucker Carlson had actor Richard Dreyfuss on his programme for an interview, and quite evidently expected it to be adversarial (in fact he admitted it shortly before the end). In the event, though, Dreyfuss launched into an expression of such good sense that Carlson just let him roll uninterrupted.

The video starts with a very short clip from an apparently incendiary interview with someone else a couple of days earlier, and then we learn how Dreyfuss now comes to be down the line from a studio in California.

Carlson begins fairly defiantly, and Dreyfuss replies in a sober manner that momentarily wrong foots him. There follows a little perfunctory skirmishing, during which Dreyfuss briefly disarms Carlson a couple of times; and then around 3:55 Carlson’s trademark worried frown (which tends to be his launchpad for counter-attack) begins subtly changing to one of approval and full-blown receive-mode as Dreyfuss begins lamenting the loss of the teaching of Civics in the US public education system.

The interview concludes with some metaphorical mutual back-slapping, with Carlson expressing the hope that Dreyfuss will come back on the programme another time. But Dreyfuss has more to add.

He invites viewers to go on his website to sign the Preamble to the US Constitution. It begins –

We the People…

Those words!

It’s uncanny how I, on this blog, keep coming back to Brexit.

 

Susan Collins settles it.

The recent, highly dramatic and sometimes ugly, circus that surrounded the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to be a Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States seemed in the event to be largely settled by a single speech from the Senate Floor on Friday October 5.

Susan Collins, senior United States Senator for Maine, delivered a forty minute speech which concluded with the declaration that she would vote ‘Yes’. Almost immediately the usual suspects began screaming that she had condoned rape. Anyone claiming to conclude that from this speech has not heard it.

This is long, measured, sober and well-argued. So much so that it would be impertinent for me – not even an American – to judge it.

Nevertheless I am conscious that you may not be able easily to spare forty minutes to watch the whole thing, so I will restrict myself to supplying some guidance – a map, if you will – as to what she discusses, and when.

  • The first four minutes are devoted to condemnation of some of the behaviour surrounding this particular nomination. Targets for her ire include not just activists and journalists, but even a few members of the Senate itself.
  • She then moves into the necessity for looking beyond supposed party affiliations of a nominee like Kavanaugh, citing her own votes for past nominees. This leads into an extended description of her detailed examination of Kavanaugh’s Judgements, Opinions, Speeches and Legal Writings over a great number of years. This includes many examples of when his legal conclusions have run contrary to what might have been expected considering his supposed political persuasion. It also includes long, frank and penetrating conversations she held with him after his nomination. Crucially it reveals the strength of his regard for precedent.
  • At 21:40 she addresses the wealth of glowing testimonials from all who have worked with him. These are not only technical legal commendations but also those dealing with his demeanour and character.
  • At 24:00 she turns to the accusation from Professor Ford. Her main thrust is that though she believes Prof. Ford is sincere and was assaulted by someone, somewhere, sometime, the principle of the presumption of innocence is of such fundamental importance that in the absence of any corroborating evidence it fails the ‘more-likely-than-not’ standard and must therefore be dismissed. On the other hand she is withering in her condemnation of the me-too allegations against Kavanaugh that emerged from the woodwork.
  • At 32:25 she launches into expressing the hope that some good might come out of this if it raises public awareness of sexual assault.
  • The final section begins at 36:10. She talks of Ford’s reluctance to come forward, and how she feels she was a victim of political manoeuvring, though she completely absolves Senator Feinstein of that. She praises Chairman Grassley for the way he handled the proceedings, but she expresses contempt for whoever leaked Professor Ford’s letter.

The speech is structured and delivered beautifully. It is very impressive indeed.

Owen Paterson just talks

The UK in a changing Europe held a meeting in May 2018, entitled Brexit and the island of Ireland. It included a keynote from the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP.

For some time I have wanted to look at his speaking on this blog, as he is one of Britain’s more impressive Members of Parliament, noted for the conscientiousness with which he does his homework. And there was another reason.

Since the referendum in June 2016, when the British people instructed parliament to extricate the country from the EU, I have been bemused by the convoluted meal that has been made of it. Very shortly after the vote I read an article by a Swiss professor of international law which stated that we did not need Article 50, we could just leave. I read that Lord Tebbit had stated that leaving needed only, “We’re going. We hope we can still be friends. Bye!

The latter might be just a tad simplistic; but I have also noticed that those who insisted upon complications were mainly politicians, lawyers and civil servants, all of whom by nature can cut red tape only lengthwise. They need to get out of the way. Ordinary folk just get on with things. And when the matter of the Northern Ireland Border came up, I looked on in disbelief as a non-problem was elevated to ridiculous proportions. Owen Paterson has always struck me as having a more practical mentality than most, and his wide experience with Northern Ireland meant that he could fill in the obvious holes in my knowledge. Here is my chance to learn the problems that have escaped me.

The introduction is by Professor Anand Menon. He looks down at the lectern to tell us that. I think we can safely assume that he has in fact memorised his own name, so there we have evidence to what extent people use the lectern as a security blanket. Ok I’m being a little unkind because he very properly raises his eyes to us for the remainder of the time, except when listing future events, but people do use lecterns as a security blanket. Much of my time is spent in showing people that they don’t need a security blanket.

Paterson begins at 3:40 and ends for Q&A at 16:25. I don’t think he looks at the lectern one single time.

He spends his first couple of minutes on ethos, in which it emerges that his experience with Ireland, Northern and Republic, goes far beyond merely his parliamentary involvement, which in itself is very extensive.

Thereafter he makes it clear that any sort of heavy border is – in his own words – a dotty idea. It is undesirable for both sides, both of whom will want to go on trading as smoothly as possible. It is also unnecessary, as technology has already smoothed out such requirements. The British and Irish people have shown they can cooperate though much bigger issues than this. To suggest otherwise is political mischief.

His approach to public speaking is equally down to earth. He epitomises what I regularly say to my trainees, “It’s just bloody talking!” Yes, he occasionally goes a bit quickly and swallows a few syllables, but he doesn’t pretend to be attempting high oratory. He’s just talking, and everything about the way he does it conveys sincerity.