Simon Sinek is very good indeed.

“Best Speech of all Time” howled the strap-line. “Oh yeah?” I thought, “how many times have I seen that claim?”

With the thousands of speeches I’ve watched on line I couldn’t estimate how many were heralded by superlatives, but I could count on one hand how many lived up to them. The best speeches tend to speak for themselves rather than asking clickbait headlines to do it for them.

Then I saw that it was Simon Sinek. I’ve seen some very interesting things from Sinek, I’ve even given some trainees the link to his Golden Circles TED talk. Suddenly I was less cynical.

He’s speaking about leadership. I can remember only one previous speech on this blog, claiming specifically to train leaders. That speaker wouldn’t recognise leadership qualities if they stood up in her soup. I have better expectations this time.

Regular readers of this blog will immediately know my first impression.

Bald opening + shooting from the hip = proper speaker.

But there’s much more to support that. He is manifestly far more focussed on his message, his audience, and how the one is influencing the other, than he is on himself. That indicates the ideal speaker’s mindset, but there’s more still. His material is beautifully constructed for maximum digestibility. His mix of Need-to-Know and Nice-to-Know, hard data leavened by illustrative anecdotage and parallels, is really masterly. He’s a joy to watch.

My problem is that, with a blog to write and my rhetor instincts glowing from the quality I am witnessing, I have no time to reflect on his arguments, though what I have registered deserves reflection. I must remember to return to listen again at my leisure.

So is it the best speech of all time? No, of course not. The nature of this medium means that there can never be such a thing, but it is really very good indeed.

Ronald Reagan and hindsight

On March 8, 1983, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, addressed the National Association of Evangelicals in the Sheraton Twin Towers Hotel, Orlando, Florida. It was his “Evil Empire” speech.

What am I doing? Any critique or comment from me regarding this speech, its content or delivery, would be outrageously impertinent.

The only thing that I have that Reagan didn’t is a lot of hindsight, and I can hardly bear to consider it.

Would anyone have believed, when this speech was delivered, that thirty seven years later there would be leaders of industry, sport, politics and even churches genuflecting to terrorist street gangs, and political representatives of US cities and states – including the state of which he had been governor – would be imitating the worst excesses of vermin-infested third-world dictatorships? Could anyone have imagined that leading mainstream media would condone infanticide, and be so brazenly partisan in their politics as to describe looting, rape, arson and murder as “peaceful protest”, or that leading political parties in western countries would again have raised the disgusting spectre of anti-semitism?

The only thing to cling to is the hope that the silent majority will cease to be silent.

Joel Kotkin: a proper speaker

It was on 23 February, 2010, that Revelle Forum at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, hosted a talk by Joel Kotkin. He had recently published The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, and that was the subject of his talk.

Kotkin has very recently published The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, a warning to the global middle class, and there are several interesting recent interviews with him to be found on that subject, but this blog is about public speaking. Also I am keen to learn what he was projecting ten years ago.

There’s a double introduction: Dan Atkinson introduces Mary Walshok who in turn introduces Joel Kotkin, so we learn two layers of ethos before the main event even begins at 4:10.

Beginning to talk while still on the way to the lectern is a trick we’ve seen before on this blog (though it was a long time ago). Researching other speeches by Kotkin suggests to me that it may be a habit of his. It’s a good one, conveying a range of positive things like enthusiasm to get on with it, and it’s a neat device for relaxing the audience.

He leans on the lectern, and regularly looks down at it, but something tells me that this is a mannerism as distinct from his need to keep prompting himself by looking at whatever might be written there. If I am right, then he has nothing to concern him. Mannerisms are irrelevant unless they bother the audience, and they won’t do that if the talk is interesting enough. Within a short while even I am caught up in what he has to say, so it’s a non-problem. I am sure he’s shooting from the hip – and therefore in my eyes a proper speaker.

I stop making rhetor-style notes within five minutes of his starting, and simply sit and listen till he stops at 42:50. At that stage he swings into Q&A.

Even with the benefit of ten years of hindsight, I found this very interesting and well-delivered. It will be even more interesting in ten more years.