Hillsdale College has featured on this blog in the past and, my having looked down their list of recent speakers, will undoubtedly feature again. Last October, they invited the Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem to talk about Liberty and the Pandemic.
Since I first discovered this speech and had decided to critique it here, Noem has faced wide criticism for refusing to sign a bill that she had previously expressed herself “excited about”. This is a bill to prevent biological males from competing in women’s sports. Quite often this sort of story turns out to have involved a piece of proposed legislation that contained a political trap, so to learn more I found this short interview that you may want to watch.
For the moment though we are concentrating on this speech …
The introduction is made by Larry Arnn, the President of the college, and it is an exceedingly good one. Being himself a proper speaker he shoots it from the hip, includes some well-received humour including in-jokes that only his audience will fully understand, and makes him an excellent warm-up for the top of the bill. He includes one particular sentence which should belong in all treasuries of aphorisms “expert knowledge is narrow knowledge”.
Noem begins at 2:50, opening with some spontaneous personal observations. Being spontaneous they are shot from the hip, and being shot from the hip they are spontaneous. Here she is speaking at the top of her game. I use that phrase, “top of her game” not to highlight great oratory, because her delivery is relatively quiet and restrained, but because her sincerity is brilliantly transparent.
Shortly after the five-minute mark she swings into her prepared speech. Now her eyes periodically drop to the lectern. She’s using a script, or at least notes, and just a little of the edge comes off her game.
I used to join in an online group of speaking trainers, but I soon jumped out because it emerged that they all espoused the fallacy that a speaker has to have a script, and were not prepared even to listen to a contrary view. Regular readers of the blog know that I am fiercely of the opinion that paper reduces a speaker’s effectiveness, and that everyone is capable of throwing their paper away. They merely need to know how to structure their material to make paper redundant and also to have it proved to them that they can – and do – speak better without it.
Noem uses paper, but so well that its damage is very slight. She merely glances at it from time to time, making me feel that it’s there more as a comfort blanket than a source of material. How I wish she’d let me take it from her. She would learn the power of another type of freedom.
With all that this is a very fine speech. She uses a pleasing pattern of pretending that she, the audience, and the hall are all in South Dakota and that she is welcoming them. In fact her whole speech and her demeanour seem carry a warm welcome. It’s very effective.
Her speech finishes at 17:10 when she goes over to Q&A.