President Trump: polished

On 6 July in Warsaw President Trump delivered a speech to the people of Poland.

It was greeted in general by the press in the USA and UK with a warmth that was rather luke. That’s not a surprise: Trump Derangement Syndrome has become so modish among the chattering classes that it even has a name – that one. A few minutes research through the English language sections of the Polish press yields a very different story: they lurved the speech.

Why don’t we have a look for ourselves?

We join it in the middle of joyful chants of “Donald Trump”, before a wreath-laying ceremony which itself is followed by a brief speech by the First Lady. I have seen this described as ‘predictable schmooze’, though I reckon its actual existence is unpredictable. I have failed to find in my memory another FLOTUS speech under these circumstances. It is competently delivered, contains a little meat in the schmooze, and I doff my hat to her for it.

After more chanting of his name, POTUS begins at the six-minute mark.

The sound on this video suffers from sporadic bursts of very loud amongst long periods of rather quiet. I believe that this is caused by Automatic Volume Control. AVC can be a blunt instrument that worries during big pauses and winds itself up to look for sound in the silence. Added to that, I think it has been programmed also to adjust the volume on the ‘atmos’ microphones that are supposed to feed us the audience response. Audience applauds, POTUS pauses, microphone system has panic attack trying to catch up with what is happening, POTUS starts speaking again, and blasts our eardrums. I comfort myself that though we are getting our feed of his voice from the same microphone as the audience they are unlikely to share our volume craziness.

He is using AutoCue, or equivalent. Even before we spot the perspex screens, we know that this speech is one of those which absolutely has to be scripted. Very soon after he starts we also get glaring confirmation at 7:35 when he has to correct himself. Having said “sincere” he tells us that he means “sincerely”. No one says the former when they mean the latter, so he has to be reading. If reading and the script scrolls up too slowly and the last syllable is on the next line the mistake is easy. I reckon the error comes from the AutoCue operator, which I mention only because that is very rare indeed. They tend to be brilliantly skilled. The smoothness with which Trump makes the correction is also skilled. He is only a minute-and-a-half in, and already in complete control.

The early part of the speech is more diplomatic schmoozing – how could it be otherwise? There’s a warm moment when he names Lech Walesa who is in the audience and stands for a bow. But as the speech progresses the subject matter gets more purposeful. What I particularly like is the judicious mixture of that which is spoken for the benefit of the onlooking world and that which is aimed at his immediate audience.

One device he uses to achieve this is by expressing a link between the two countries as co-representatives of the free West. Poland is one of the European countries that has paid its agreed share of the cost of NATO, and now is resisting huge pressure from Brussels to take a proportion of the gigantic influx of migrants – or, to put it another way, bail Merkel out of her madness. Poland is accustomed to huge pressure, and Trump goes out of his way to itemise some of the many ways it has been tossed on stormy seas over the centuries only for its spirit to triumph.

The speech gets very powerful at 18:50, talking of Soviet occupation, leading to his recounting the holding of a Mass in Victory Square on 2 June 1979 by Pope John Paul II. He culminates in a spellbinding moment where he speaks of the million in that square who “did not ask for wealth, did not ask for privilege”. They wanted God.

He goes on to highlight the inroads of those who would destroy what western civilisation has achieved. This is another wonderfully powerful section, not least because of his referring not only to the threat of the enemy from without but also the enemy within. This section alone would make this speech a triumph, because – script or no – he gets firmly in the driving seat of his message and presses the throttle.

For his peroration he swings at 36:00 into an account of Jerusalem Avenue in the Warsaw Uprising. I doubt there’s a soul in that audience that does not know the story, but won’t mind hearing it again – particularly while the whole world is listening. The final auxesis comes out through more chanting of “Donald Trump” and is greeted by a standing ovation which is very definitely not a hollow formality.

That’s a bloody good speech!

Donald Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea. Though he may have flaws, he loves his country, what it has achieved and what it stands for; and that’s unfashionable among the self-regarding, self-appointed elite in the USA. But what they particularly can’t forgive is that so do the electorate that made him President.

 

Tom Woods: topped and tailed

A couple of weeks ago Intellectual Vision published on YouTube a talk made by Tom Woods at the Mises Institute.

Tom Woods is not only a prolific author and speaker, but the star of the Tom Woods Show, a regular podcast which presents itself with the sort of cheerful razzamatazz normally associated with radio programmes, even including advertising. And why not indeed!

Here he presents himself rather more soberly …

More and more organisations, posting speeches on line, ‘clean up’ videos by topping-and-tailing them. It’s understandable: the market is bound to want these things neatly packaged. For my niche purpose though, I want to see the opening and closing – warts and all. Just as when flying an aeroplane the trickiest part is the takeoff and landing, the biggest test of a speaker is in the opening and closing.  Here, sadly for me, we see neither.

Never mind: whatever preamble we’ve lost, he kicks off in this video with a very clear laying out of his stall: he intends to address the oppression that underlies the Political Correctness narrative.

Interestingly for me I still clearly remember the moment, around a quarter of a century ago, when I first heard the expression ‘politically correct’. My instant, spontaneous, horrified reaction was, “That can mean only totalitarian dictatorship.” I went on to reason that politics was about opinion, which by definition is neither right nor wrong – simply disputed. Therefore the very term was a contradiction, and a revolting one at that. My little rant being over, I turned back to the contributor on the radio programme I was presenting at the time.

I find myself puzzled by Woods’ first two minutes as, at the Mises Institute, everyone in his audience already knows and agrees with what he is saying. Is he there merely to massage their views, or is there more and meatier to come?

He does indeed move into a meatier area, and one with which I happen to be familiar – namely economic disparity in different social and ethnic groups. The PC (I detest the term so much that I shall not write it out again) view is that all inequalities are the result of oppression. In debunking this, Woods proceeds to quote data, case histories and examples that I have read in books by the great Thomas Sowell, and therefore I assume that Woods has read them also. (Actually I would assume that anyway, because not to have done so would have been negligent for someone like Woods.)

At 7:40 Woods confirms my assumption by specifically naming Thomas Sowell.

Despite all this meaty data, I find the speech a disappointment. Perhaps because it told me nothing I didn’t happen already to know, but rather I feel my problem is what I’ve long called the ‘semi-memo issue’. Very many decades ago I wrote a memo to my then boss, neatly identifying a string of mistakes that I felt our organisation was making. I received a dry, though courteous reply, suggesting I had omitted the important half of my memo – the bit that suggested ways to remedy those mistakes. He was far too polished to put it this way, but his unmistakable message was that any half-wit can spot problems. What required ability was the finding of ways to solve them.

Woods begins his speech by complaining that PC permits no argument, substituting debate with cretinous name-calling at best and brutal violence at worst. Quite so. Today this insidious, malevolent, misanthropic malaise has infected in varying degrees the establishment, the civil service, academia, the media, and so on. If what I read of last week’s General Synod is to be believed we may even add the church to that sorry list. One could describe it as metastatic. It is as if Antonio Gramsci had personally orchestrated the campaign.

Woods’ missing half should surely concern itself with at least some semblance of a suggestion as to what can be done about it. Or perhaps that was lost in the topping and tailing of the video.

 

 

Daniel Hannan: brilliant when audible.

In May ACRE held a conference in Miami to launch Conservatives International. One of the speakers was Dan Hannan. On learning this my immediate instinct was to move on: I’ve critiqued him far too often. But when I investigated further I found that it was more than eighteen months since last we covered a speech by him, so I at least owed myself a chance to look.

I am very glad I did. Just the still image advertising the video quickened my pulse. No lectern, no slides, no aids of any sort. We see just him on a stage, which is how I set the scene for my trainees because it forces them to confront all their challenges.

Clever opening. He outflanks his theme by appearing to talk nonsense, thus drawing us in. By the time he explains his reasoning we are already with him, and well primed for his childhood reminiscences which are chosen to be starkly relevant.

He comes across as very relaxed, but why shouldn’t he? He’s preaching to the choir, of which I admit I am one, and there are only two hundred of them in the hall. Still his body language conveys an inner confidence that certainly would not be there with many speakers.

He hasn’t yet eradicated the diction flaw of sacrificing syllables for the sake of a perceived dramatic effect. I’ll present just one example from a very large field: at 3:52 that word is “developing”, but we know only from the sense. The final syllable is inaudible. My mind flies back half a century to 1967 and the wonderful Kate Fleming, then voice coach at the National Theatre. Had she had a recording device to prove it, I would have been more easily persuaded that I was doing then what Hannan is doing now. It is possible, with guidance, to develop habits that retain dramatic effect and also all syllables, words, phrases; and he needs to do so, because meanwhile too much of what he says is partially lost.

I get this picky only with speakers who are very good, and they don’t come much better than Hannan. This is a beautifully crafted speech, with brilliantly coherent arguments. He goes down the obvious route of explaining the economic and ethical points that make free trade the most beneficial system for humanity. That was to be expected. He also takes us through the obstacles that can make it so difficult to sell; and that is for me the most enlightening part.

He explains the political, economic and psychological barriers that drive people away from the free market system that has elevated society (particularly the poor) so much over the past two centuries into the welcoming but coercive arms of socialism that has failed at every attempt, always results in immiseration, and was responsible for one hundred million deaths in the twentieth century.

It is a brilliant speech.

Hannan was selected by Aldershot, a constituency in the south east of England, to be their Conservative candidate at the recent General Election. The selection was blocked, I understand, by Conservative Central Office. We can only guess at their reasons, just as we can only guess at how the Conservative Party squandered a seemingly invulnerable poll lead.

Peter Tatchell: disappointingly insipid

The Oxford Union recently held a debate on the motion, This House Believes A University Should Be A Safe Space. Among the speakers for the opposition was Peter Tatchell.

I have not previously covered a speech by him, which comes as a surprise considering that he is not known for hiding his light under bushels. I was eager to amend the omission.

According to his opening, this is his thirtieth Oxford Union debate in three and a half decades. Then why isn’t he better?

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not trying to score cheap points. I admit that I am uneasy with many of his political views, but I defer to none in my admiration for the personal courage and principled perseverance that he has shown in the campaigns I have seem him fight over the decades. I genuinely expected this to be a forceful, and forcefully argued, speech.

But it isn’t: compared to what I expected it’s insipid, repetitious, flabby. The insipidness is in the way he is almost speaking down to his audience as if it had been drawn from a primary school. The repetitiousness is just that: he goes over and over virtually the same ground. And it’s flabby because he spends almost as much time apologising for perfectly sensible views as he does expressing them.

In the early minutes he is transfixed by the paper at his right elbow. It seems not to be a script so much as a comfort blanket; but why on earth should someone of his experience need a comfort blanket? What on earth is the matter with him?

He has spent more hours than you or I would care to count being grilled by the toughest the media has to offer, giving it back with interest. I guess I had expected him to light a fire under this gathering, and yet we get a bit of moist rag. Why?

Could it be that his communication skill is in the two-way traffic of hitting back at hard questioning, and he’s never got around to learning how to construct his own one-way traffic? No, it can’t be! Not if he’s been debating at the Oxford Union on average nearly once a year since the early eighties. I don’t understand it.

Was I simply expecting too much from someone like him? This performance would just about suffice for many speakers. I suppose.

It is a puzzlement.

Mind you: his side won the debate.

Beppe Grillo: a master at work.

Beppe Grillo is something of a political phenomenon in Italy. Wikipedia describes him thus, while his blog has a different approach.

I thought it might be fun to see him in action. I found a speech/performance that he made nearly twenty years ago in 1998. This is more than ten years before he formally entered politics, but we can see where he is going.

I am fairly often asked about the advisability of going out into the aisles of a hall to get in amongst the audience. I don’t advise against it, but it has to be well stage-managed in order to work. Your first hurdle is practical technology: are there blind spots where your radio mic will drop out? – if you walk in front of a speaker will you get howl-round? – can you with reasonable dignity get off the platform into the body of the hall? – and so on.

Your next hurdle is you: does your message lend itself to being delivered while you are eyeballing members of the audience up close? – do you have the right sort of personality to pull it off? – can you keep moving enough to avoid sections of the audience spending most of the time looking at your back? – and so on.

If checklists like that come back with the right answers, then go for it! It is certainly very good for one of my chief mantras, namely that the audience should feel you are speaking with, as distinct from at, them.

Grillo here is fantastic! This is a masterclass on what can be done. Everything from his constant movement, changing from creeping to running to bounding, his endless variation of vocal tone, now whispering now bellowing, the daringness of the language for 1998 – I’m assuming that the subtitles are faithful – everything is brilliantly performed. You only have to see the faces on his audience to know that he is winning all the way.

Added to that, he has his stage-management issues licked. No one has to look at his distant back because there’s always a huge screen with him in close-up.

You would need to be very skilled, very brave, or downright foolhardy, to try to emulate his style. A FTSE 250 chairman delivering an AGM keynote like this could die very painfully; but that’s not the point. It is by watching a master at work that we get inspiration and ideas, and then we fashion them into something we can reach and handle.

I’m not surprised he has such a following in Italy.

 

Charles Moore is prescient

On 3 October, 2016, the Bruges Group held a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference. One of their speakers was Charles Moore.

“A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theatre…” It’s one of the oldest openings in the book, but as sound as a poun… er … well, it’s sound anyway.

Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, clean Brexit, continental Brexit, full English Brexit: it’s got to be divorce, as the man said.

We are eavesdropping on a meeting, the video camera is incidental and marginal. Thus we are getting less than perfect sound quality, and also a sideways view of the speaker. I actually prefer this for my purposes, because I get a warts-and-all view of what is going on. You may find Moore’s left hand distracting, gesturing as it does between his face and the camera, but I like the way he manifestly is not playing to the camera but applying his focus to his audience in the room. I also like the way those gestures are spontaneous, natural and unconscious.

Moore is clearly familiar and comfortable with the speaking platform. He hasn’t saddled himself with a bloody script, because he knows and trusts his capacity to find the right words spontaneously at any moment during the speech’s journey. All of this I like.

What makes me wince is that he is holding a route-map for that journey. He has an index card with, no doubt, bullet points to guide him on his way.

Why does that bother me? I cannot deny that this is a widespread practice among those who who are good enough to spurn scripts. His periodic consultations of that card do not hamper the pace or rhythm of his speech at all. So what’s my problem?

He is the fountainhead of the information, the views, and arguments he is imparting. If even he can’t remember what he has planned to tell us, what chance that we will remember what he told us?

When working with trainees, I introduce them to structures that are designed to make such notes redundant because the route-map is absurdly easy to memorise. And they work even for hour-long, data-stuffed, keynote speeches to annual conferences. This is not just for their benefit but also for their audiences. Clarity of the route makes the speech not just easy to deliver but also to digest.

Watch the speech, and then see how much of the information, views, and arguments you can subsequently remember. Spooling back any of the video is not allowed for this exercise, because the audience in the room couldn’t do that. However much you can’t remember is how much this speech failed in its purpose.

Moore is good, but he could very easily be better.

So much for his skill as a speaker. Here’s a bouquet to his skill in prescience. This speech was delivered eight months ago. Watch from 19:35, and then consider positions on migration recently adopted by Poland and Hungary in defiance of Brussels. With such a strong grasp of future events, I might suggest that Moore should publish an almanac.

But only if I were feeling particularly childish.

 

 

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.