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.

 

Richard Dreyfuss and Civics

It’s just talking!  My public speaking trainees probably get sick of my saying that, but it’s true. Yes, there are things to learn in terms of optimising your material for impact, digestibility, and memorability. There are devices for coping with nerves, for grabbing and holding the audience’s attention, and so on. But strip away all the mystique, and it’s just talking.

Therefore when an interviewee on a TV programme holds forth for a couple of minutes on an important subject I regard it as public speaking as much as if he were on a platform in an auditorium. It is also just talking.

In April 2017, Tucker Carlson had actor Richard Dreyfuss on his programme for an interview, and quite evidently expected it to be adversarial (in fact he admitted it shortly before the end). In the event, though, Dreyfuss launched into an expression of such good sense that Carlson just let him roll uninterrupted.

The video starts with a very short clip from an apparently incendiary interview with someone else a couple of days earlier, and then we learn how Dreyfuss now comes to be down the line from a studio in California.

Carlson begins fairly defiantly, and Dreyfuss replies in a sober manner that momentarily wrong foots him. There follows a little perfunctory skirmishing, during which Dreyfuss briefly disarms Carlson a couple of times; and then around 3:55 Carlson’s trademark worried frown (which tends to be his launchpad for counter-attack) begins subtly changing to one of approval and full-blown receive-mode as Dreyfuss begins lamenting the loss of the teaching of Civics in the US public education system.

The interview concludes with some metaphorical mutual back-slapping, with Carlson expressing the hope that Dreyfuss will come back on the programme another time. But Dreyfuss has more to add.

He invites viewers to go on his website to sign the Preamble to the US Constitution. It begins –

We the People…

Those words!

It’s uncanny how I, on this blog, keep coming back to Brexit.

 

Owen Paterson just talks

The UK in a changing Europe held a meeting in May 2018, entitled Brexit and the island of Ireland. It included a keynote from the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP.

For some time I have wanted to look at his speaking on this blog, as he is one of Britain’s more impressive Members of Parliament, noted for the conscientiousness with which he does his homework. And there was another reason.

Since the referendum in June 2016, when the British people instructed parliament to extricate the country from the EU, I have been bemused by the convoluted meal that has been made of it. Very shortly after the vote I read an article by a Swiss professor of international law which stated that we did not need Article 50, we could just leave. I read that Lord Tebbit had stated that leaving needed only, “We’re going. We hope we can still be friends. Bye!

The latter might be just a tad simplistic; but I have also noticed that those who insisted upon complications were mainly politicians, lawyers and civil servants, all of whom by nature can cut red tape only lengthwise. They need to get out of the way. Ordinary folk just get on with things. And when the matter of the Northern Ireland Border came up, I looked on in disbelief as a non-problem was elevated to ridiculous proportions. Owen Paterson has always struck me as having a more practical mentality than most, and his wide experience with Northern Ireland meant that he could fill in the obvious holes in my knowledge. Here is my chance to learn the problems that have escaped me.

The introduction is by Professor Anand Menon. He looks down at the lectern to tell us that. I think we can safely assume that he has in fact memorised his own name, so there we have evidence to what extent people use the lectern as a security blanket. Ok I’m being a little unkind because he very properly raises his eyes to us for the remainder of the time, except when listing future events, but people do use lecterns as a security blanket. Much of my time is spent in showing people that they don’t need a security blanket.

Paterson begins at 3:40 and ends for Q&A at 16:25. I don’t think he looks at the lectern one single time.

He spends his first couple of minutes on ethos, in which it emerges that his experience with Ireland, Northern and Republic, goes far beyond merely his parliamentary involvement, which in itself is very extensive.

Thereafter he makes it clear that any sort of heavy border is – in his own words – a dotty idea. It is undesirable for both sides, both of whom will want to go on trading as smoothly as possible. It is also unnecessary, as technology has already smoothed out such requirements. The British and Irish people have shown they can cooperate though much bigger issues than this. To suggest otherwise is political mischief.

His approach to public speaking is equally down to earth. He epitomises what I regularly say to my trainees, “It’s just bloody talking!” Yes, he occasionally goes a bit quickly and swallows a few syllables, but he doesn’t pretend to be attempting high oratory. He’s just talking, and everything about the way he does it conveys sincerity.

Ben Sasse educates

Through September, the clamour surrounding the confirmation of the proposed appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has spiralled to alarming proportions. Yesterday, 27 September, saw Judge Kavanaugh deliver an impassioned, emotional, and defiant defence of himself, his record and his character; though for sheer drama that was challenged by Senator Lindsey Graham who tore into what he saw as a disgusting conspiracy by certain parties. It is perfectly possible that Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s speeches will find their way onto this blog, but for now I’d like to turn to a quieter more reasoned time.

At the beginning of September lawmakers delivered opening statements to the confirmation hearing. Senator Ben Sasse was one of them, and he gave a brilliant speech.

For this Brit, with little more than a sketchy understanding of the workings of the US legislature, this speech is an education. For one thing it seems to explain the creation of what President Trump calls “the swamp”. But it is much more than that, as it also has huge resonances to what ails the political tides in Britain.

When he says “The legislature is impotent: the legislature is weak, and most people here want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work so they punt most of the work to the next branch” I find myself thinking that the British legislature does exactly the same thing, in fact disgracefully punted most of it overseas whence the British people are desperately trying to claw it back.

Sasse strongly advocates restricting responsibility for legislature to the hands of those who can be kicked out of office when they get it wrong. He is referring to SCOTUS being a lifetime appointment for a Justice, but you get no prizes for guessing what I am thinking. Nevertheless let’s stick with Sasse (who, incidentally, later explains even more clearly why politicians punt decision-making away). He says that the judiciary’s having become such a political hot potato stems from the elected politicians’ having failed to do their job properly.

There’s a potent moment for me, a student of audiences, at 0:32. The split screen allows us simultaneously to watch Sasse and the focal point of the audience – Kavanaugh himself. The latter has been listening intently, but now picks up a pen to make notes.

What I think is significant about Kavanaugh throughout this speech is not just the intensity of his concentration, but the dispassion. His frowns convey concentration not disagreement. At no point does his expression display an opinion on what is said. The exception is when Sasse slips in a provocative joke, and Kavanaugh permits himself a smile.

Just before his summary, and beginning at 9:39, Sasse delivers a very strong anaphora – “this is why …”, and then the summary heads unswervingly towards his final two sentences.

“It seems to me that Judge Kavanaugh is ready to do his job. The question for us is whether we’re ready to do our job.”

Sadhguru!

Ever since I first found a speech by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and was turned into a fan, I feel a need periodically to bask in his pronouncements. I see it’s around twenty months since he was last on this blog. Sometimes, even when he’s speaking in English, I have barely a clue what he’s talking about and am forced (metaphorically) to run to keep up; but the sound and rhythm of his speaking relaxes me.

In today’s treat he is sitting and addressing rank after rank of devotees, talking about Yugas which I gather to be epochs, and more than that I can’t tell you. I am ignorant as a babe in arms. Perhaps when/if I retire I shall find the time to learn more about Hinduism. Meanwhile …

The atmosphere is highly ceremonial, and not just because of the periodic emergence of sitar music which has obviously been dubbed in. He begins with a chanted prayer, but then he always does that – it’s his version of what I call a James Bond opening; and when the chanting morphs into speech there remains a sense of ritual, a set piece. His delivery is part intoned, part spontaneous.

Though I itch to close my eyes and just immerse myself in the words, the sound, the atmosphere, I remain one who studies every detail of public speaking and therefore always has a part of me analysing the mechanics. For instance there’s something slightly incongruous about his wearing a wristwatch – and that wristwatch in particular. Not for a second would I deny him the right to a wristwatch: it just seems in this environment to clash with the image being projected by that beautiful robe.

Speaking of the robe (it’s not the same as in that ‘still’ you can see above), it may be beautiful but it keeps slipping down and exposing his left nipple. Not for a second would I deny him a left nipple, but the robe-slippage seems to bother him a little.

Actually in the process of constantly having to adjust his clothing he occasionally gives us a glimpse of the control box to the radio mic that is hidden somewhere in those robes to the right of his left nipple. Its presence would be even more incongruous than the wristwatch, except it is not constantly on show. In fact I suspect that the ranks of devotees never see it – unlike the left nipple. And anyway even without seeing it – the control box – we would work out that something of that nature would need to be about his person.

Despite my pathological inability to enjoy this without also registering such details, I find the whole thing hypnotic. What a wonderfully relaxing and spiritually refreshing way to spend the best part of an hour!

There are at least another dozen in this series.

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Marie Waters trusts the people

Anne Marie Waters (hereinafter AMW) spoke at a meeting in Oxford on 30 May this year. Was it at the Oxford Union? The panelling in the background suggests it was, though Oxford presumably has other panelled rooms. She has been on this blog before.

If you click the link on her name (above) you will be taken to a Wikipedia page in which you will be fed a stream of pearl-clutch nuggets, including “far right”. I no longer know what “far right” means, though recently the most consistent definition I have found is “having views at odds with the bigotry of the Guardian and the BBC”.

This morning I saw that Twitter has suspended her account. I wonder whether this says more about the Establishment in general and Twitter in particular than about her.

Let’s see for ourselves whether she has horns, a forked tail, and spews out violent hate.

[The speech ends at around 44 minutes, after which there are questions.]

For three decades I have been coaching people in public speaking, during which time the fashionable speaking style has become steadily less formal. I welcome this movement, because it counters what in my book I call The Communication Paradox. Briefly this states that the better you are at communicating across a table, the more difficulty you have on a speaking platform. I urge my trainees to think in terms of speaking with their audience as distinct from speaking to or – worst – speaking at.

AMW speaks with her audience. She has pushed the boundaries of speaking informality as far as I have seen. She addresses her audience as you would if talking to friends in your kitchen. The audience embraces this to such an extent that we hear her speech punctuated by audible comments, one of which begins a digression so egregious that we can see that a chunk has been edited out.

On her previous visit to this blog I described AMW’s speaking as having undisciplined passion. Here she has introduced a small measure of discipline, though the speaking is still messy. The interesting thing is that the mess is a key part of its strength. The obvious lack of polish screams sincerity. You can search as hard as you like, but I contend that you will find no signs of artifice; so we are left with the conviction that though we might disagree with her she means what she says.

So what does she say? Do we hear hate? Do we hear swivel-eyed extremism? Do we hear Nazi propaganda? Is she urging us to wear masks, riot in the streets, set fire to cars?

No, she is telling us to trust the people.

HOW DARE SHE!