Lia Mills: out of the mouths …

In 2009 a twelve-year-old girl wrote an impassioned English class assignment. The assignment became a speech that was posted on YouTube and went viral. It was on the subject of abortion.

As we have often been told, the Pro-Choice movement cares for women and their right to choose. The death threats that immediately started being aimed at this girl and her family must therefore be classified as caring death-threats.

Lia Mills is now twenty-one years old and a Human Rights Activist with her own YouTube Channel. She is the author of An Inconvenient Life, an autobiography. It would seem therefore that the death threats didn’t work.

From the classic James Bond opening, via the epistrophe that begins at 0:53, through the disturbing statistics, and concluding with the quote by Horton (the Dr Seuss elephant) this is by any standards an outstanding speech.

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

 

Shannon Bream makes me glad.

This will not be the first time on this blog that we have watched a speech from Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. On the previous occasion Trey Gowdy was the speaker. Unsurprisingly, given Liberty’s Christian roots, that was a ringing call to the students to follow a lifelong path of Christian integrity.

In May 2013 the keynote speaker for their Commencement was Shannon Bream.

The introduction by Jerry Falwell Jr, President of the University, is suitably effusive, and concludes with a brief ceremony of conferring upon Shannon Bream a Doctorate of Communication. She begins speaking at 4:03.

As a programme anchor on TV Bream will have spoken to bigger audiences, but when you are broadcasting and can’t see your audience its size is just a number. At 4:20 we get a shot of the audience, crammed into a football stadium, and I wonder whether this is the largest live and visible audience that she has addressed.

In that same shot we see her Teleprompter screens. To me they are hugely significant.

In my work, though occasionally I and the trainee will work hard to develop new skills, the first, easiest, and commonest thing is to identify the trainee’s strengths in order to build them and play to them. Bream plays to her strengths.

She is reading from a Teleprompter, and doing it very well. Of course! That’s a skill she had to develop for her work.

The words she is reading are not in written English but in spoken English and sound spontaneous. Writing a script like that is a surprisingly difficult skill (so difficult that I find it quicker and easier to teach people to structure their material in such a way as to be able to speak spontaneously without writing it). Difficult or not, that’s also a skill she had to develop for her work.

She is speaking quickly. Most would sound less intelligible or even panicky at that pace, but again it’s an occupational skill for what she does for a living.

All this would be very difficult for nearly everyone, but she is making it seem like a walk in the park and succeeding wonderfully.

The only professional error I can identify is rather cheeky and based on the assumption that she is working to a fifteen minute slot. Starting at 4:03 and ending at 19:41 she over-runs by thirty-eight seconds. You think that’s splitting hairs? You’re right of course, though you would not have been had this been a broadcast. Airtime operates precisely to the second: under-running is manageable, over-running is not. Nevertheless, this is not broadcasting and she is playing to a window she knows to be elastic. I bet her timing is more accurate than anyone else who has done this speech.

Shannon Bream’s message is rather devout. That is appropriate in this setting, though many outside the setting would be a little uncomfortable with it. I would urge them nevertheless to pay close attention. You do not have to espouse the dogma to value the philosophy.

I’m glad I watched this.

 

Mohammad Tawhidi: worthy of salute

In March 2017, the Rotary Club of Adelaide, Australia, hosted a talk by Shaikh Mohammad Tawhidi. He styles himself the Imam of Peace, and I describe him as very brave.

We are not told who introduces him but he does a workmanlike job. Tawhidi comes to the microphone at 3:20, and opens with a pause. When he eventually speaks, it is at a measured pace. I am already becoming aware that this guy knows what he’s doing, so I’m not at all surprised when he speaks without notes.

On the other hand I am astounded at how brave he is. I shouldn’t have to make that observation. Other faiths accept it when their members identify ways in which their culture could be reformed, but Muslim agitators have claimed a unique right to do what they like, breaking any law, to punish those who fail to toe even their most extreme line; and western politicians, from Theresa May upwards, have disgracefully turned their back on their consciences to indulge them.

We in the west were brought up to understand that everyone should be equal before the law. Today, that is an assertion that can get you absurdly labelled a hate-stained extremist, and it is the politicians and their echo chamber in the media that are to blame. Desperately we search for some spark of courage and integrity among our political servants, and then happen upon it here in the form of an Imam. I salute him.

Tawhidi’s speech ends at 23:25, and then he goes to questions.

 

Liam Halligan and releasing the handbrake.

On 28 March, a year and a day before the UK is due to leave the EU, The Bruges Group was addressed by John Redwood and Liam Halligan. The former has been on this blog fairly recently, speaking at another event: the latter we will hear today.

Liam Halligan is co-author, with Gerard Lyons, of Clean Brexit: Why Leaving the EU Still Makes Sense – Building a Post-Brexit Economy for All. The foreword was written by Gisela Stuart who was featured on this blog just last week.

If you glance at a summary of his career you will be in no doubt as to how highly regarded Halligan is, not only as an economist but as a journalist, author and broadcaster. In other words, not only does he know his stuff but he can communicate it. Nevertheless, addressing a live audience is quite different from those other media. Let’s watch.

[A little warning: the fx mic recording the audience reaction is turned too high at the beginning. Therefore turn your volume down before you start the video, and then up again after the applause.]

I’m not a fan of lengthy preambles, favouring what I call the Bald Opening (among other things it’s counter-intuitively good for the control of nerves). Nevertheless here the first 90 seconds is the best part of the opening, because Halligan is not staring at bloody paper. He may be a communicator and he has obviously learnt how to manage a round of applause, but he hasn’t been properly taught how to speak in public if he has to use notes or a script.

That’s not just my beating an idealogical drum: look for yourself how the best, most fluent, most engaging and compelling bits are the parenthetic sections where he lifts his eyes to the audience and just talks. Yes I know he reads very expressively, and he gets some well-deserved laughs, but it would have been even better without the paper. Hampered by paper it’s as if he is driving a car with the handbrake on. If he reads this he won’t believe it – they never do till I prove it to them – but it’s true.

And this speech deserves to be driven without the handbrake on, because it is a good and valuable speech. It has strong well-argued messages, full of properly researched data, everything such a speech should have … except the handbrake is on.

At 17:35, “I want to talk a little bit about No Deal…” he stops reading for more than a minute and a half, and indeed for some periods for the rest of the speech. Even when his eyes go down to the lectern he’s not always reading. You can tell by the tone of his voice, by his using spoken, as distinct from written, English – it’s a subtly different language – that this is Halligan himself speaking, not regurgitating something he’d written earlier. And those periods are always better.

This speech is nearly eight months old and Halligan was saying that though No Deal was not to be feared, an FTA was preferable. I wonder if he’d still say so. For me that argument has receded. Yanis Varoufakis, Greek ex-Finance Minister, has repeatedly warned that the EU is not to be negotiated with; and day by day he is proved right. It now seems to me that a deal – any deal – has now become suspect if it is negotiated before we have left the EU.

WTO may mean some short-term disruption, but it also means…

  • no £39bn
  • no 585 pages of legalese to be combed through for hidden traps (taking time that could be better spent, preparing for WTO)
  • no small print
  • no more pretending that the Northern Irish border is a problem
  • and we might speculate on how long it will then be before the EU comes hammering on our door for an FTA.

And also, open to the world, the UK can then release its own handbrake.

 

Gisela Stuart in the lions’ den

On 12 September Gisela Stuart was in Ireland, addressing The Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). Her talk was entitled Why the Brexit Referendum Result must be Honoured.

Though many of my political opinions are at odds with hers, Ms Stuart has long struck me as one of the more admirable of British politicians. (Though she is no longer a Member of Parliament she continues to be a politician, occupying the Chair of Change Britain.) I’d often seen her interviewed on television, but I had never heard her delivering a speech. I was eager to amend that, so was delighted when I found this.

The introduction is made by Daithi O’Ceallaigh, erstwhile Irish Ambassador to London. It’s less than a minute and a half long, says what it needs to say. and he very properly never once looks down at the papers in front of him. If you find that unsurprising in such a short section, you haven’t read many posts on this blog.

Whether or not you chose to learn about the IIEA by following the link on their name (above), the word “European” and the ring of stars on the wall behind the chairman’s table bear a strong clue to the europhile nature of this gathering. Therefore Ms Stuart’s opening, slightly jocular, remark about walking into the Lion’s Den is explained. This audience is probably adversarial, possibly hostile, but being Irish it will be courteous.

And it is apparently with that view in mind that Ms Stuart pitches the decorum of this speech. The tone is gentle, reasoned, considered, and epitomises what I call the ‘conversational sincerity’ style of speaking which, I’m glad to say, has replaced the fashion for formal oratory that used to prevail. Perhaps this is her customary style of speaking, I don’t know, but it is certainly right in this setting.

It’s a beautiful speech and describes more calmly and lucidly than anyone I’ve seen why we the people voted leave, why we the people are heartily sick of the dog’s dinner that is being made of the process, and why we the people don’t think much of our political representatives at the moment.

I commend it.

 

Andrea Jenkyns should spurn “polish”

My eye was caught by a Tweet. Andrea Jenkyns MP was protesting that due to certain medical conditions (which are not for me to describe) she would never be a “polished public speaker”. My instant reaction was to wonder why she – or anybody – would want to be a “polished” public speaker. It is close to being an infallible guide that the more “polish” the less sincerity.

I decided to delve a little deeper into the story. It seems to stem from her appearance on last Thursday’s BBC broadcast of Question Time. I don’t follow that, because I tire of what appears to be the BBC’s promotion of their biased narrative through constructing unrepresentative panels to face equally unrepresentative audiences.

I went and found a recent speech by Andrea Jenkyns. She made this at the BrexitCentral Conference, a packed sideshow event, held on 30 September at the Conservative party Conference.

Having thanked Jonathan Isaby, who is chairing, she embarks upon some chitchat that clearly means something to her audience but doesn’t concern us. The trouble is that her extended preamble is untidy. If she mistakenly thinks she wants “polish”, she could do worse than clean up this sort of mess. I know she’s among friends who will share private jokes, but if I were advising her I’d keep the “Thank you Jonathan”, and then pause for a strong two or three seconds before cutting straight to “Remember that referendum day…” at 1:08.

My next piece of advice would be to take her script and consign it to the nearest bin.

I know she genuinely believes that it helps keep her on track, and far too many share that mistaken belief, but it is a cruel fallacy. Let me try to show you what I mean.

Every so often she leaves the script and speaks spontaneously with her audience. An example is at 1:51 beginning with “Too many of those …” and carrying through to 2:16. The tone of voice, rhythm of speech, body language, everything says that the real Andrea Jenkyns is now speaking with us. And then when she returns to her script most of that goes AWOL. Now she is merely regurgitating something she wrote earlier, and stumbling rather often in the process.

“Ums” and “ers” and – yes – stumbles are features of real day-to-day speaking, and audiences instinctively know this, bestow an intangible licence, and forgive them (or actually seldom notice). Stumbles when you are reading somehow don’t carry this benefit: they seem lame and amateurish. Jenkyns reads well, with masses of expression, but that expression is infinitely stronger when she is speaking spontaneously. And that’s actually true of everyone.

But what of that necessity to stay on track? No problem. It simply comes down to structure. If you know how to prepare your material properly you can present yourself with a mind-map, a route as clear and as easy to follow as driving up a motorway.

That is all Jenkyns needs to learn. Everything else will be automatically looked after by the conviction and passion that got her into parliament in the first place, and the political experience that she has accumulated since.

If she reads this she probably won’t believe it, but it’s true.

 

Jonathan Brown resets the bar

The International Institute of Islamic Thought hosted a talk by Dr Jonathan Brown. It was entitled Islam and the Problem of Slavery.

That’s an interesting title. For whom does he reckon there’s a problem? The slaves or the political apologists for Islam? Shall we find out?

With the list of speeches I have critiqued on this blog nudging close to 400, I am very often asked who I rank as the best speaker. I am rather less often asked for the worst. We have today a very strong contender for the latter title.

Here’s a handy piece of advice for speakers. If you are sufficiently interesting, amusing, or dynamic the audience will forgive you a wide range of shortcomings. You can mess up the order of your slides, you can have an “irritatingly” “repetitive” “mannerism” (for instance – I’m just picking “something” at random – you might “wave” your “fingers” in the air every “few” seconds to indicate inverted commas), you can lose your place in your script too often even though your face is buried in it all the time, you can take an age to connect the projector to show a completely dispensable piece of film footage and then take an eon afterwards to reconnect to your slides, though the audience is likely to be less forgiving if you mumble so much that they can’t hear you properly.

You can also discern if you are not being sufficiently interesting because the air will be filled with the sounds of mobile telephones being used.

The stupid thing is how easily it can be fixed.

The speech is nearly fifty minutes long, and I defy anyone who isn’t conscientiously determined to see it through for the purposes of covering it on a blog to make it to the end of the first ten dreary minutes – or even five? This is tedium honed to its ultimate.

What’s the answer to that question in my second paragraph? I’ve no idea. He seemed to be trying to wrestle with the precise definition of slavery (sorry, “slavery”) citing examples of it throughout history in order to convey that it really needn’t be so bad. So that’s all right then.

I don’t think he ever actually addressed what was specified in the title of the talk, though I might have dozed off.

He tells us there are two more such papers for him to deliver. If it’s all the same to you I’ll pass.