Laura Ingraham braves it

One of the speakers at the Republican National Congress at Cleveland Ohio in July 2016 was Laura Ingraham.

I tend to limit my coverage of speeches at American national congresses because they’re so damn noisy. I just get less opportunity to see the subtler nuances of a speaker in this environment. National congresses don’t do subtle.

At the time, this speech hit the headlines via accusations that Ingraham had performed a Nazi salute. I went online, looked, rolled my eyes, shook my head wearily, and forgot about it. She had waved as she came on stage, and they freeze-framed it. That is the cheapest and easiest way to smear anyone at all. Apologists for the left fight a constant battle to paint Nazism as right wing because their eternal embarrassment is that Hitler considered himself a socialist. That’s not idle opinion: it’s in his writings.

Reflecting recently I wondered what it was about this speech that caused the media desperately to resort to such a pitiful device. Shall we see?

Oh dear! Since I last watched this, they’ve edited out her entrance. What a stupid mistake! Now the casual viewer might assume that there really was a Nazi salute. You however can have a look here.

75 seconds in, and we see the first reason they had to smear her: she’s supporting Trump. A few more seconds and she’s expressed concern that the Obama administration had caused the USA’s prosperity to decline. How dare she! Everyone knows that anything short of idolatry concerning Obama is racist – at least, that was the orthodoxy then.

Equally reprehensible is positive reference to the American Dream, yet less than 3 minutes from starting she’s covered how her parents worked and worked to buy their children an education and how there is dignity in any job. This is incendiary stuff!

Another reason that I tend to avoid national convention speeches is that when you are preaching ‘to the choir’, when you could almost walk on, pick your nose for a minute and walk off to cheers of adulation, speeches can too often turn flabby. A speech usually needs an element of opposing stress to keep it tight. Despite this, Ingraham does keep it tight, and she does more.

If she has a filter she’s left it at home. From 12:00 she tears into the Obama administration in general and Hillary Clinton in particular. She then tears into the press gallery, accusing them of not doing their job in exposing corruption. She tears into the pollsters, the lobbyists, the consultants, all the occupants of what we even this side of the Atlantic now know as The Swamp. She almost shrieks her peroration.

Did I mention opposing stress? The crowds roaring their support in the hall are a tiny proportion of her overall audience, and she knows it. Had Clinton won I wonder where Ingraham would be now. Since January 2017 it has increasingly emerged not only that most of the media were in Obama’s pocket – we already knew that, not only that the IRS had been disgracefully politicised – we knew that too, but that this corruption had metastasised into the DOJ and FBI. This is the swamp whose mopping-up continues today.

Had Clinton won, Laura Ingraham’s non-existent Nazi salute might have been the least of her worries.

Marc Kasowitz and frustration

In 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a talk by Marc Kasowitz.  They do not tell us the precise date, but the video was posted on line in November.

The name was not familiar to me, but it took mere seconds to establish that he is a lawyer, and among his clients is President Trump. As expected, the comments below the posted video had its fair share of rudeness; but what shocked me was reference to Kasowitz being Jewish. I am at a loss to know what difference this is supposed to make.

He reads his preamble. He even reads the details of his birth. I mention this not to pour scorn on him but to highlight how so many believe that paper is an antidote to nerves. It isn’t: it is one way to battle The Hump, but not a very good one. Paper makes a lousy comfort blanket, but he is persuaded to play it this way.

He spends the first fifteen minutes speaking about his father, a scrap metal dealer. Had I been advising him, I should have tried to dissuade him from this because it is notoriously difficult to do without curling your audience’s toes. I’d have been wrong: he pulls it off. Although he makes no bones about idolising his father, he does so in a manner that is as comfortable, matter-of-fact, and unsentimental as can be achieved. He also manages to cast forward, explaining how following his father’s ethos in business helped his career as a lawyer. Perhaps obeying the Fifth Commandment comes so naturally to the Jewish culture that it requires no stage management. For my purposes this section does something even more important: it periodically lifts his eyes from that wretched paper so that he engages the audience and liberates his natural ability as a raconteur. More. I want more of that.

He begins talking about his legal career, swiftly moving to the founding of his own firm. My interest quickens when he promises to recount some case histories – more raconteuring!

The case histories are at least as interesting and absorbing as expected, and Kasowitz comes across as personable. His eyes do lift from the paper often enough to lift the spirit of the talk, but seldom enough to cause me severe frustration.

His talk concludes at 37:30, and he swings into Q&A. I wonder what they’ll ask about…

 

 

Heather Mac Donald’s audience matters

On 6 April, 2017, Heather Mac Donald was booked to address an audience of students at Claremont McKenna College in California. When the appointed hour arrived, the entrance to the auditorium was blocked by a crowd of chanting protesters, so Ms Mac Donald delivered the speech to an essentially empty hall and a camera which streamed her lecture to be received elsewhere. The camera’s footage also found its way online, thus ensuring that this protest multiplied the lecture’s audience several-fold. Today we increase that audience by a little more.

Disregarding the size of the audience, if I don my rhetor hat Ms Mac Donald has my sympathy. Some years ago I delivered a seminar in London to an international law firm. There were around 250 people in the auditorium. Subsequent feedback was severely mixed; and when I delved deeper it emerged that, without my having been told, an audio feed of my talk had been relayed to other offices worldwide, and every single piece of negative feedback had come from people not in the hall. I remonstrated with the organisers, not for enormously increasing my audience (I was promoting my book!), but for withholding from me the information. There are subtle but significant differences in how you deliver to those who are present and those who aren’t, and my being kept in ignorance of most of my audience, the unseen had been shortchanged.

Ms Mac Donald’s lecture is designed to be delivered to an audience in the hall, and she is here having to build ‘on the hoof’ a communication line to persons unseen and unknown. Let’s see how she copes.

The introduction is made by Sara Sanbar, who is clearly conscious of the absurdity of addressing an empty hall – she even mentions it. The serious side to her introduction is that she evidently disagrees with what she believes Mac Donald will say, but she is defending her right to say it. Some students understand the value of free speech.

Mac Donald begins. She’s talking about BLM (Black Lives Matter). Those three words comprise most of the chanting by the crowds who blocked students from attending this lecture. You might have thought from this that it must therefore be the case that to Ms Mac Donald black lives don’t matter. But in that case you’d be disastrously wrong. Within seconds of the lecture beginning it becomes supremely clear that no one holds black lives more precious than Ms Mac Donald.

The statistics that she hands out should churn your stomach. Here’s an example: black victims of homicide in the USA outnumber white and hispanic combined, by a factor of six. Who kill them? Overwhelmingly other blacks. Who is in between, trying to stop it happening, and then picking up the pieces afterwards? The BLM-maligned police.

You should listen to the whole of her lecture. Those protestors whom we can still hear faintly chanting should definitely have listened to her lecture. They would have learnt something – an activity which used to be the purpose of going to university.

BLM may not know the actual statistics, but they know perfectly well the basic facts. The organisation’s true purpose is not to defend blacks, but to pursue a much darker programme of disruption, the chief victims being blacks. The name is a fraud.

You don’t have to poke very far below the surface to learn that they are just one bunch of many, operating under fraudulent names. Antifa is not anti fascist: it is fascist. Hope-not-hate is consumed with hate. We can see where they learnt this trick: countries have been doing it for years. The communist totalitarian dictatorship of East Germany used to call itself the German Democratic Republic. Even today North Korea styles itself The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Of course black lives matter. Half a century ago, black lives in the USA were in far better shape than they are today. What went wrong is another story for another time.

Ian McKellen delivers a speech

This posting is something of a pairing with its predecessor, and what a pairing! Mind you: the illustrious Sirs, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, are good friends and it’s by no means the first time they have been paired.

Before I devote my almost undivided attention to Sir Ian allow me to continue briefly with the pairing theme by making some observations comparing style. While Sir Patrick strode immaculately into the Oxford Union straight to a lectern placed downstage centre on the platform, there to stand in his own pool of light and command the hall, Sir Ian shambled in, exuding buckets of bonhomie, looking like an unmade bed, turned the wrong way when reaching the aisle, greeting members of the audience like old friends before turning to the platform to embrace the Union President with a bear hug. Then instead of occupying the platform he strode up and down the aisle releasing a stream of consciousness which rather gave the impression of being random, but was actually carefully structured.

There’s theatre for you! When it comes to treatment, there’s no such thing as right or wrong. All that matters is whether you can make it work. And of course they can: these guys know what they’re doing.

That doesn’t mean they can make a speech. Frighteningly few actors can do that well.

There’s one thing that I hammer into the heads of all my trainees. The most engaging, compelling, persuasive person you can be is you. Not a persona, but the real you. It sounds easy, but, as Oscar Wilde observed –

To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up.

The difficulty is that we all have different masks that we don under different circumstances; and knowing which of them is a genuine part of the real you is quite tricky. Is this man we are watching the Ian McKellen that opens his eyes first thing in the morning? Very unlikely, but still I reckon it’s real. That’s why we want to listen.

Another lovely voice used flawlessly, and there’s also something to be learned from it. Unlike the audience, we can wind back and listen again to sections, ignoring what he says but analysing how he says it. How surprised are you to hear how, unlike those who make themselves sound phoney by over-enunciating as if every word came individually wrapped, he seems to slither around in an apparently slovenly fashion – and yet everything is heard with crystal clarity? That’s what proper voice coaching does for you.

In passing, I wonder whether he (and Sir Patrick) might have had the same voice coach as I. I’m just a handful of years younger than they and as a National Theatre Player in the mid sixties my voice was bashed into shape by a legend, a merciless darling called Kate Fleming.

Sir Ian kicks off by reading from a tablet a series of things that he claims have been written about him on the internet. I neither know nor care whether they are genuine: they are very funny. At one point he loses his place and there’s quite a long pause while he scrolls around, hunting the next thing he wants to read. It couldn’t matter less: he can hold this audience till Godot arrives.

That section over, he loses the tablet, and just talks. For a time he discusses some of his recent work, pointing out that the beard is for King Lear whose run might not yet be over, and then moves on into his principal non-theatre preoccupation. He tells us of his work visiting schools to discuss sexual orientation. That could get very ‘worthy’ but it doesn’t. It’s a bit like the deceptive skill that underpins his diction. By putting everything across like a favourite, absent-minded uncle, seeming to meander hither and yon but actually staying acutely focussed, he makes you want to listen. And much of it is very funny.

That’s a bloody good speech.

Patrick Stewart gives a reading

The Oxford Union does not just host important debates. Sometimes, to its credit, it invites people of fame to speak about themselves. This is very difficult for them, for reasons I discussed briefly when I covered Stephen Fry’s such gig.  With my line of work, therefore, I find them interesting.

Patrick Stewart was the guest recently.

He’s reading!

It’s a pity, because when speakers do this I immediately stop thinking of it as a speech; however I shall stick with it, because there are good and bad readings and I want to see to which category this belongs. A Reading is a perfectly respectable piece of entertainment: I do poetry and prose readings, though unlike Sir Patrick I have never dared to read anything I have written myself. Anyway, let’s face it, I want to hear what he has to relate. It’s bound to be autobiographical and, though half a century ago we mixed in similar circles, we have never worked together.

He lays out his stall at the beginning, giving us a Contents Page – good! Then we are off. It’s beautifully written, very well structured for a reading, thoroughly enjoyable and wonderfully delivered.  He has a terrific voice and by golly he knows how to use it.

This is going to come across like the nostalgic rantings of an old fart, but I remember one nervous occasion some years ago, dining with a legendary, now dead, TV director. I tentatively bewailed the passing of the provincial rep system – in which he and I (and Sir Patrick of course) had worked our apprenticeship. He was almost explosive in his agreement with me. Decades of actors now have been mostly deprived of that benefit, and I’m afraid it shows. It’s nothing to do with talent: it’s a subtle mastery of stage presence which is becoming extinct, but Sir Patrick of course has it in abundance.

There were moments here when I felt he needed a director. For some years on BBC radio I broadcast theatre reviews; and with one-handed productions I reckoned that in the first few minutes I could spot whether or not the actor had spent a few quid – or dinner at The Ivy – to get a director to give it the once-over. It doesn’t matter who you are, you cannot see yourself from the audience. I’m being ultra-picky here, but there were a few little moments…

I’ll give you an example. There’s a good story that begins at about 8:00. At 9:02, having just harvested a good, well-deserved laugh with the punchline, he needlessly adds a single sentence that lamely explains the joke. That, of course, doesn’t get a laugh. A director would have cut that sentence.

Likewise I was uncertain about a section involving stories of actors who got serious fear-freeze and bailed out. In my experience there are very few theatre stories that don’t come under the heading, “you need to have been there”. The difficulty is in conveying the precise prevailing atmosphere that caused the crisis. It’s like ‘corpsing’ stories, of occasions when a stageful of actors is reduced to battling uncontrollable giggling. Those stories should be very funny, but I long ago gave up trying to narrate them – even to other actors.

For all that, this is a highly enjoyable 36 minutes, and Sir Patrick is to be congratulated.

But to me it isn’t a speech. To convey what I mean, I invite you to join me in my next posting which involves another famous actor: same vintage, same venue. He also worked his apprenticeship. I would hate to try to judge which of their performances is the more enjoyable or interesting, but I do say this –

The next one is a speech!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frauke Petry takes the chair

For some months, since the October 2017 Federal Election, Germany’s governance has been a little confused as Chancellor Merkel has struggled to maintain, through negotiation of coalitions and party alliances, a workable majority. I am not a student of German politics, and my opening sentence is evidence of that, but one thing seems clear. It was a tsunami in the popular vote for AfD (Alternative for Germany), a party which won 94 seats from zero in the Bundestag, that put the cat among the pigeons. The party was led into the election by Frauke Petry; and she resigned the leadership immediately afterwards. Her reasons for that are well documented on the internet, so I shall not attempt to summarise here.

However I was interested to see what sort of person could inspire such a dramatic democratic revolution. Her university discipline was chemistry (like Margaret Thatcher). Even more intrigued I went searching for a speech. I haven’t found one with her speaking in English, but this one has subtitles. That’s far from ideal for my purposes (and I’ve never done it before on this blog) but before I discarded it I decided to watch. What I found is an impressive study, not so much of public speaking but of audience control. The speech was delivered in May 2016.

The posting on YouTube apologises for the poor English in the subtitles, and I think we all spot the typo in the third one, but the subtitler did a lot better than I could.

After just a few niceties that includes apologising for the demonstrations outside, she digs from her pocket a piece of paper – a leaflet that has been handed out to and by members of the audience. It makes some aggressive claims against her and her party. She proceeds to invite its authors to approach the stage, restate the claims and be prepared to debate them.

That is brave, impressive, and indicates a remarkable confidence in her political position and her ability to promote it. It also indicates that she is in favour of free speech.

Only one is brave enough to rise to the challenge, a student in apparently his late teens. The others skulk at the back, heckling.

Petry treats him with courtesy, answers his arguments and politely silences any in the audience that interrupt him, whether in favour or opposition to him. He returns to his seat.

Half a dozen more students, emboldened, proceed to come down to the front to try their luck. One of them displays his insecurity with insolence and boorishness. Others are more polite. In all cases Petry remains courteous but firm, chairing this ad hoc meeting with extraordinary skill, while still keeping a firm lid on the audience. We are left wondering at the competence of these students’ teachers.

It’s very impressive indeed, and occupies the rest of this half-hour video.

As mentioned earlier, immediately after the Federal Election Petry resigned her leadership, and indeed membership, of AfD. She now sits as an independent. Nevertheless I don’t think we’ve seen the last of her, and that bothers me not at all

She could be described as Far Right, but only by the Far Left.

Jordan Peterson. Who needs bridges?

For some weeks I have had a speech sitting awaiting my attention. I found it when the story broke of Lindsay Shepherd. She was the teacher at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, who was brutally reprimanded for showing her students a clip of a TVOntario debate. If you missed it you can learn the whole scandalous story here. I warn you that you may wonder how and where any university finds such imbecilic administrators.

It was in wanting to learn more about the speaker to whose disgusting ravings she had subjected her poor students that I found clinical psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson and the speech we will examine today.

It had been gathering dust in my to-do stock till he hit the news again this past week after his TV interview on Britain’s Channel 4 went viral on YouTube. The interviewer, Cathy Newman, was determined to humiliate him, but instead was completely outclassed. Ch4 has declared that she has since been subjected to vile online abuse. I haven’t seen any, but that proves nothing. They claim that they “called in security”, but that proves nothing either.

Personally I found Newman’s wilful misunderstanding of his answers intensely irritating, but in retrospect I find I have some sympathy for her. It seems to me that she is as much a victim as Lindsay Shepherd of a fashionable anti-free-speech culture in academia and the media. When free speech gets suppressed, when ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no platforming’ prevail, the final result will be – as Peter Hitchens said in a speech I covered very recently – silence. What he did not say was that meanwhile people will lose the ability to engage in debate. Newman probably thinks she’s adept at crushing opposing views, but she looks as if she has never properly encountered any. Holders of views at odds with today’s fashionable pieties, if they ever get the chance to air them at all, are immediately bullied into grovelling apology. Therefore, along with her fellow PC cohorts, she has never had to punch anything tougher than a marshmallow.

Then along comes Dr Peterson who knows his stuff, will not back down unless out-argued, treats her discourtesy with courtesy, will not allow her to misrepresent him, stays calm and good humoured, and the more aggressive she gets the more he laughs. With any luck he has blazed the trail for others, and one day once again media interviewers will have to learn how to do it.

Dedicated followers of fashionable pieties need to bear in mind that today’s cutting-edge chic is tomorrow’s avocado bathroom suite.

Let’s watch this speech that I’ve had sitting around. It comes from his Biblical Series, but with the length of my preamble this time I do not intend to comment on the content but restrict myself to his delivery style which I find interesting.

We join in the middle of a sentence, and it doesn’t matter because it feels typical of the entire speech. Peterson here speaks sporadically with huge pauses.

I’m delighted to report, though not surprised, that he shoots from the hip. As I tell my trainees, it is not only ridiculously easy to learn how to speak without notes but the learning is one of the best investments you can make to your personal image as a speaker. Audiences love speakers who do it because it conveys command of the subject, spontaneity, sincerity, all the things that an audience wants from a speaker. And you speak better for it.

I’ve put some thought to his huge pauses. I think he must be a modular speaker, with a big library in his mind of modules that he can use to explain this, to outline that, and so on. I’ve come across many such, and I even do it myself to a degree, but as a rule I advocate preparing bridges to join the modules. He seems to eschew that principle, and doesn’t care that parts of the talk seem severely disjointed. The funny thing is that he has a stage presence that almost seems to benefit from those gaping periods of silence. I’m fascinated.

I shall seek out more of his talks.