Steve Milloy is better than a voice-over

At the Heartland Institute‘s 12th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC) on March 24, 2017, Steve Milloy presented a speech entitled “Resetting Climate Policy”.

I was interested to watch, because I have had a book of his (it’s an exposé of the EPA) on my wish list for longer than I care to admit, and have been following Milloy on Twitter in the mean time.

Speeches from Heartland’s various ICCCs have appeared in this blog for many years, during which time I have watched the production values on their videos go from ‘clunky’ to ‘seriously neat’. You have only to look at that ‘still’ on the video above to see how we get a simultaneous view of the speaker and his visual slide that is nearly as good as that of the live audience. I congratulate them.

I say “nearly” as good because in that window the slide occupies more space than the speaker.  You could argue that it needs to in order that all those words should be legible, and at that point I begin to quarrel with the speaker.

A convention has built over the years that seems to decree that it isn’t a serious presentation unless it is accompanied by slides smothered in verbiage. I fight with that every working day, because it means that the slides are in competition with the speaker for the audience’s attention and the speaker can become a voice-over for a slide-show.

At corporate presentations the speaker is very often presenting a report whose hard-copy contains a fat deck of slides, but that doesn’t mean the speaker has to use all (or any) of them in the presentation. The presentation should not attempt to précis the report but to trail it. The object is to persuade the audience to read the damn thing, and if your précis is too good they won’t.

Does Milloy’s audience at this presentation get a hard-copy of his slide deck? If so I would try to persuade him to leave at least most of the slides out of the presentation.

In Heartland’s defence I bet that most of their ICCC speakers’ slides are graphs, and graphs are when slides become invaluable and detail on them likewise, so I will forgive their dedicating most of the video space to slides.

But what of Milloy’s actual speech? It is very good. It is specifically aimed at his live audience which is knowledgeable on the subject matter, so he doesn’t faff around with unnecessary explanations – e.g. who Tony Heller is (I won’t either); and therefore he gets a whole lot more into the available time. This might leave some video viewers, who are eavesdroppers after all, scratching their heads but perhaps eager to become more knowledgeable.

Speaking of which I really must get on and read his book, Scare Pollution.

 

Barack Obama: dreadful DSS

It was an early morning of November, 1967, and I as an understudy was being frantically rehearsed to step up and take over a role in a very important theatre company at that day’s matinée. I was being rehearsed now by the company’s legendary voice-coach. I had already had some lessons with her but, at the age of twenty, I of course knew everything and had always argued that I wasn’t doing what she accused me of. Now, only hours from execution (so to speak), I changed my plea and asked for guidance.

My diction crime was Disproportionate Syllable Stress (DSS). It is particularly widespread among people who are trying to speak expressively. Today it is a bugbear of mine, and one of the worst offenders is today’s subject.

Barack Obama delivered this year’s Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Words in English, like in most western languages, have syllable stress. For example, the word itself – “syllable” – has three syllables, of which we stress the first. The other two are subordinated, but we still pronounce them and people still hear them.

Then up on a platform to make a speech, we raise our voices and in the process we hammer those stressed syllables. We should also hammer the subordinate ones, though proportionately less heavily, so that the audience hears the whole of every word.

DSS is when we don’t do all that.  The stressed syllables are hammered and the subordinate ones are left to look after themselves, so in that example what is heard is “syll – -“. Now let’s turn to Obama’s speech, and we don’t have to wait long for examples.

At 01:31 he says “It is a singular honour…” and our brains automatically fill in the gap and we think we hear all that, but what we actually hear is, “It is a singular hon-“

  • 01:56 “…and a few confess-“
  • 02:06 “I am a very good danc-“

This is just during the jokey opening. Once he gets to the meat of the speech more examples come thick and fast.

Because our brains are so adept at grasping the sense of a sentence and filling in the gaps for us we don’t notice – unless we happen to be a sad idiot like me who winces at each example. So you may think it doesn’t matter. But it is fundamentally bad practice, because the sense is not always obvious.

In a play I directed some years ago, a character had the following line, “Are you dissatisfied with my work?” to which the other character in the scene had to reply, “No.” I could not get the first character to pronounce audibly the first syllable of “dissatisfied”. It is a subordinate syllable and she persistently swallowed it. I eventually gave up, changed her word to “satisfied” and the other character’s reply to “Yes”.

All syllables matter, and Obama swallows far too many – usually the ends of words. To me it marks him out as a rank amateur. You’d have thought someone would have told him. Perhaps someone did and he didn’t believe it – any more than I did of myself all those years ago.

My excuse was the arrogance of  youth. What’s his?

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.

US Defense Secretary cheats brilliantly

Usually when I’ve been working with someone on their public speaking there’s a sentence I trot out at or near the end of the session. “It’s just xxxxxx talking.” [Insert your own adjective.] The sentiment behind what I’m saying is that we can wrestle with analyses and techniques till hell freezes over but in the end you are doing nothing more sophisticated than talking. Get a handle on that point, dismiss the mystique, and your mindset is going to be in a good place.

So when a couple of days ago I happened upon this tiny clip of film of the United States Secretary of Defense, recorded apparently by a phone while delivering an impromptu speech, I was delighted.

The best advice that I ever give concerning the art of impromptu speaking is, CHEAT. Always have something up your sleeve. Let’s see what James Mattis has up his sleeve.

There’s no grand opening, just a jocular exchange of banter concerning how they’ve ambushed him. We need to bear in mind the extraordinary bond that prevails between comrades in arms; and Mattis was a Marine Corps General.

Opening banter over, Mattis just xxxxxx talks. Look at his body language: hands in pockets, casual stance, head swinging backwards and forwards so that everyone sees his face (and we periodically almost lose his voice). He’s just xxxxxx talking. No ceremony.

My book on business speaking has a strange title, at least it’s strange to anyone who hasn’t worked with me on their speaking. It contains the word Face, which is the name I give to that phrase or sentence that you give your speech to identify it and make it memorable. There are no prizes on offer for spotting the Face of this tiny little casual talk.

We got two powers; the power of inspiration, and the power of intimidation.

I would take a lot of persuading that he hasn’t said that before. It doesn’t matter: it’s damn good and it instantly identifies this little talk for ever. He’s simultaneously obeyed two prime pieces of speaking advice: give your speech a Face, and in case you suddenly have to deliver something impromptu always have some gold up your sleeve.

And his peroration? “Listen to your NCOs, now. So long.”

Less than three minutes and a brilliant piece of speaking. He needs saluting.

Trey Gowdy is a speaking phenomenon.

Although English, I idly follow some of the political circus in the USA – not least in order to see what interesting speeches have been delivered. Thus I found myself one day a couple of weeks ago with the name, Trey Gowdy, coming at me from more than one direction. One minute he was tipped to succeed James Comey as Director of the FBI, the next he was going to succeed Jason Chaffetz as Chairman of The United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. As I write both possibilities seem to remain open, neither yet being dismissed or confirmed.

[Subsequently, on 9 June, it was announced that Gowdy was to be the new Chairman of The United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform]

I wondered whether there might perchance be a speech on line whereby I could learn more about him and how he performs.

How do you spell a hollow laugh? I instantly found myself swamped by Gowdy speeches, and every one a blinder. With respect to public speaking the man is a phenomenon. For the purposes of this posting I chose one wherein he is delivering a Convocation Speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Speaking at gatherings like this is notoriously difficult. You have not only the students, but also parents, teachers, and probably press. The audience is so varied that you have to decide where specifically you want to aim. When I receive cries for help on this I always reply that you should pitch at the section of the audience that you think has the shortest attention span.

Gowdy is aiming at the students and, if you want to know whether he has their attention, just focus on their silence. He engineers that by deploying arguments that are structured to be crystal clear, by using strong dramatic pauses which invite the audience to ponder on what he has just said, by periodically taking the volume of his voice down till they almost have to strain to hear. This is a beautifully skilled piece of speaking.

Were that all it was, it would fail to get that silence. What underpins the whole thing more than all those techniques is his transparent and passionate sincerity. I tell my trainees that passion is worth bucketfuls of technique, but the dream ticket is to have both. Gowdy has both.

One of the most important things I do for trainees is help them to play to their strength. First I need to identifying their strength. In the case of Gowdy it’s easy. When he tells stories the standard of the speech lifts from very high to even higher. Here his account of the plane crash in the Potomac River is the electrifying highlight. His lesson on persuasion is relatively clunky. The same goes for other speeches I’ve seen of his. He is an outstanding raconteur, and he has an excellent instinct for choosing the right story.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the better the speaker the pickier I get. I look at ‘clunky’ in that previous paragraph, and realise that Gowdy’s clunky is anyone else’s triumph.

Speaking of techniques, do you want to know how to emphasise a word subliminally? – causing the audience to absorb the emphasis without being conscious that you were emphasising? You simply pronounce all its syllables. Many words that we speak have syllables that we habitually swallow. ‘Habitually’ has 5 syllables, but we pronounce 3-and-a-bit. If you pronounce all five, you subliminally emphasise the word. Don’t make a song-and-dance of it, or it won’t be subliminal, just pronounce them. ‘Every’ is usually spoken with two syllables, though it has three. Now listen to Gowdy at 3:07 and again at 3:19 where he subliminally emphasises the word ‘every’ by pronouncing all three syllables. If you think that he always pronounces ‘every’ with three syllables, then listen at 13:33 when he doesn’t and keep listening through 13:45 when he does. He may consciously know the trick or it may be instinctive: I don’t know.

This is a wonderful speech. I wish it hadn’t been edited and pulled about by whoever posted it, but never mind: it’s wonderful.

So is this one, overflowing with passion.

So is this one, overflowing with prescience.

I could go on and on, adding to that list, but I don’t need to. Those links will take you to YouTube, and each one will have many other Gowdy speeches.  You may use up many hours, watching. I did, and regret none of them.

Mario Draghi: from bees to boredom

In the summer of 2012, London hosted the Olympic Games. Almost simultaneously Britain launched – in London – The British Business Embassy. It would be a mark of extreme cynicism to suggest that one was riding on the back of the other.

On 26 July, 2012, at a Global Investment Conference hosted by The British Business Embassy, Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, delivered a speech.

Draghi opens with a nice little metaphor about bumblebees; or rather he doesn’t, but he should. Uttering a few obligatory words of thanks to his hosts and introducer is one thing, but – like too many – he fannies around with dross before reaching his opening, the bumblebee metaphor.

It’s a good opening: he compares the Euro to a bumblebee that urban legend decrees should not be able to fly. Come the financial crisis of 2008, the bumblebee was in danger of falling to earth, so now “the bumblebee will have to graduate into a real bee”. Were I an apiarist I might bridle at the suggestion that a bumblebee is not a real bee; but I’m not, I’m a rhetor who hopes that he will run with this metaphor for longer.

He does revisit it a minute or so later, but sadly just the once. It’s a pity because it could have given this speech some much needed coherence, not to mention lift. It almost immediately fell into a mire.

Perhaps he abandoned it because he wanted to devote his eleven minutes to an orgy of self-congratulation, and the spectacle of a currency limping from crisis to crisis doesn’t lend itself too comfortably to the image of a creature buzzing around in the sunshine sipping nectar.

While he trumpeted the euro’s imagined triumphs I could think only of the economic human disaster that is Greece, the hugely expensive silken strips of empty highway that bypass impoverished villages in Spain or Sicily, all the various pieces of pointless white elephant expenditures that are the price that ordinary people pay for his being able to pat his own back and those of his co-conspirators.

Had the speech been more coherent he might just have obscured some of that. In the event he left me conscious that his is becoming merely the latest in a long line of failed attempts at taking self-determination out of the competent hands of the people and trying to centralise it in the hands of those who think they know better. Will they never learn?

Jon Smith sits and talks with …

The Oxford Union, on 14 October, hosted a talk followed by Q&A from Jon Smith, football super-agent.

What I know about football (soccer) could be written in several languages on the back of a postage stamp, but my interest was quickened because the mainstream media suggest that football agents are shadowy lowlife, barely legal beings – bottom-feeders; and given that the mainstream media are almost unfailingly wrong about everything I wanted to learn more. I was also curious as to how and why the Oxford Union had gone out of its way to seek a talk from him. This last was quickly answered by the revelation that he had recently published a book of memoirs. When I had a radio programme, I remember book promotion campaigns as one of the best seams to mine for good interviews.

He is seated.

My mind rockets back more than half a century to schooldays and a class speaking competition. The teacher had surrendered his desk at the front of the classroom,  and we were all invited to use it. All the others enthroned themselves in his seat of power. I, choosing to stand, won. Although the teacher did mention that by standing I showed more authority than the others, I have always liked to believe that there was more than that to my victory.

In The Face & Tripod, I have a chapter entitled The Communication Paradox. This paradox is essentially in how unexpectedly often it is that otherwise good communicators have difficulty with public speaking. I discuss reasons and remedies. In particular I home in on the preposition ‘with’, and commend the mindset of speaking with your audience as distinct from to. Jon Smith is definitely speaking with his audience, and I have a suspicion that by sitting he is helping that.

I feel slightly chastened. When I began teaching and coaching public speaking, nearly thirty years ago, I was a bit of a maverick inasmuch as I sensed (correctly it turned out) that the fashion for formal oratory was on the wain. I was one of the earliest advocates of the conversational-sincerity school of speaking, but I have always stopped short of recommending being seated. Jon Smith is making me rethink. He is showing me that there are circumstances when it obviously works.

He is instantly likeable, sincere, articulate, coherent, everything I would wish him to be. From the moment he starts I want to learn more. That is the equivalent of the author forcing you to turn pages. My notepad is discarded: I am too interested in what he has to say to give a damn about how he says it. And remember: I know nothing about football.

This talk is brilliant. The book is called The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent. I can’t wait to read it.

And the Q&A is fascinating too. I suspect you would never guess his answer to the question, “Who is the most powerful man in football?”