Ha-Joon Chang hasn’t a clue.

The Oxford Union recently hosted a talk with Q&A from Dr Ha-Joon Chang. He spoke about wealth inequality.

I selected, for the link on his name, Dr Chang’s own website, because it lists and links so many of his writings, interviews, etc. I have browsed extensively around them for one very good reason. This guy is obviously somewhat learned; how does he come across in his writing, conversation, and so on? Quite well in fact.

Those are relevant questions because as a public speaker he hasn’t a clue. You could be forgiven for thinking that impossible for a university lecturer, so let me present my evidence.

The first half hour is dreadfully tedious, but in a strange way. Often, tedium comes from the voice sticking on a monotone. Dr Chang however uses plenty of expression in his voice. The problem is rather in what he says. He has mountains of data which he delivers in a manner which is as indigestible as can be imagined. If you dip in at random for a few seconds at a time you will see an animated speaker, keen to impart information which fascinates him. On the other hand if you watch for a sustained period you will be at a loss to decipher what he is trying to tell you. He flits with even less observable system than does the cliché butterfly.

A common feature on this blog, when the speaker is using a script, is for me to point out how the rhythm and tenor lifts when the speaker’s eyes lift and he addresses the audience directly. In Dr Chang’s case it’s the reverse: his ad lib digressions actually reduce the pace, because he tends to insert huge pauses. Pauses are wonderful for letting an important point sink in, and I sense that is how Dr Chang is intending to use them, but the audience does need to know what the point is supposed to be.

At around 24:33 he begins a personal anecdote that I really want to be an audience-grabber, because the speech desperately needs one. He narrates it so lamely that it’s the proverbial lead-balloon, which is sad because it’s a good story.

At around the half-hour mark it begins to emerge through the fog what his eventual message is, and at that point things lift a little. In fact it builds enough so that at 34:00 he actually gets quite a respectable laugh from the audience.

The speech ends at 43:50 to be succeeded by Q&A.

Let me put my cards on the table: I disagree with his message. But then I frequently work on speeches whose message I regard as misguided, and if anything I enjoy those most because they create for me a target. Can I help to make this message so coherent that it might sway even me?

So no: my attitude to the speech was not jaded by my disagreement. In fact I remind you that I considered the best part of the speech began when I came to know what the message was. And I had to sit through thirty minutes of clueless tedium to reach that.

Ann Widdecombe rants

This blog has been quiet for the past week because I’ve been away, and not only have I not posted but I have largely avoided following what has been going on. Nevertheless I was not holed up in a cave, and Ann Widdecombe‘s rant in the EU parliament got itself noticed. It was instantly filed in the back of my mind as something to enjoy upon my return.

This blog has periodically featured ballsy women from all parts of the world, principally because I like speakers who are bold enough to take on all comers. Ann Widdecombe surely has a claim to the title of doyenne.

Two minutes and eight seconds of rant seems suitably brief in current temperatures, and most people could blast away inconsequentially for that duration. But to insert seven meaty details into it takes skill.

  • She noted that she represented the biggest party there,
  • She scorned the absurdity of the “election” of EU officials
  • She pointed out that this parody of democracy betrayed all countries represented
  • She spoke of the historic pattern of oppressed people rising up against oppressors
  • She slipped in a dig at the leaked video of EU pound-store bigwigs congratulating themselves on maintaining the UK as a “colony”
  • She attacked a new ruling concerning fishing net meshes
  • She declared the UK’s departure in three languages.

I’ve seen twenty-minute speeches that said less. The EU probably can’t wait to be rid her, and that’s the whole point.