Andrew Klavan: a polished sapphire.

Think about the people you want to be around. Think about everything that’s the opposite of shallow and trendy. Think about four years of conversations you’ll never forget. That’s Hillsdale College.

(from the website of Hillsdale College in Michigan)

As a courtesy I habitually supply explanatory links for people, places and publications involved in my blog posts. That’s the first time in more than 460 posts that I have been so impressed as to reproduce words from a venue’s website. In April 2019, at Hillsdale College Andrew Klavan delivered the speech we feature today.

Declaration of interest: I’m a fan of Klavan’s, having discovered him years ago via his Revolting Truth videos. I listen to his podcast, The Andrew Klavan Show with its ridiculous opening signature song, preceded by an even more ridiculous one-minute flight of absurdity that sometimes reduces even him to hysterics. He makes me laugh, makes me think, keeps me abreast of the goings-on over the pond. I also appreciated his autobiographical book, The Great Good Thing. I reveal all this to warn that there’s a danger that you might find me fawning.

Klavan begins at 2:00, following an introduction by Abby Liebing. She reads her introduction, and that’s ok given that introductions are more than 80% factual information. However, if I had guided her, I would have urged her to dare to face the audience and not the script when giving us her name because I’m certain she knows her own name well enough not to read it. Yes, of course, the paper is a security blanket; but we want to see her face.

Klavan’s speech ends at 33:12. There follows nearly the same amount of time for Q&A.

He reads his speech, and suddenly I’m torn. He reads better and more expressively than almost anyone I’ve heard. In fact in passing I reckon virtually all of his podcast is read from a script; but you have to listen very closely to spot it because he has really mastered the art of writing in spoken – a subtly different language from written – English.

The writing is magnificent. For instance at 10:10 Klavan brings up the question of abortion, and a few seconds later gives us in just one, short, jaw-dropping sentence the strongest argument I’ve heard that abortion must not be the mother’s choice. And it’s based not on theology but biology.

Would any of the speech’s brilliantly economic choice of words have been compromised if he had shot this speech from the hip? Possibly, but that would have been offset by the benefit of the words being transparently spontaneous. It would have been the same brain that conceived the words, albeit without the luxury of dwelling over each phrase, so right there is the compromise to be judged. The freshness of spontaneity or the sparkle of economy? An uncut diamond or a polished sapphire? That’s why I’m torn.

We can compare the two. At the beginning, from 2:42 Klavan morphs from the end of a brief thank-fest into some spontaneous musing on the state of society and whether it is appropriate to laugh at it. At 3:36 he moves to his script, and the colour minutely fades.

But now I doff my rhetor hat, become an ordinary audience member, and tell you that it is a stupendous speech. There are points here and there when I’d take issue with the detail of some of his arguments, but that’s part of the stimulus that makes it so enjoyable.

I often press the stop button when Q&A begins, but thinking I’d sample a little of it I then sampled all. Hillsdale College yields up some excellent questions. Most of them from students, but there is one questioner who describes himself as “seasoned”. We can see only the side of his head, but I reckon he’s slightly more seasoned than I, and I am more seasoned than Klavan. At any rate, Klavan for once is put on the back foot. His answer is pretty good but his body language suggests that it’s been a narrow thing. I’m glad I saw that.

I enjoyed the whole hour.

Obianuju Ekeocha: what a privilege!

The National March for Life is an annual event in Canada, taking place in the nation’s capital of Ottawa. It is joined by thousands, and some of them attend the Rose Dinner that accompanies it.

In 2016 the March and the Dinner took place on Thursday 12 May, and the Keynote speaker was Obianuju Ekeocha.

In this speech, including its delivery – especially the delivery – there is nothing I can fault, though I will make a suggestion in due course.

The construction of the arguments is blindingly good. The narrative thread leads inexorably towards a single sentence which is introduced shortly before the end, but is then repeated and repeated till there is not the slightest doubt that it is the FACE of the speech.

Stop the killing

Yet the narrative doesn’t travel in a straight line. It meanders slightly and, in the process, highlights and scoops up secondary messages to become key to her primary message. There is an excellent example when she talks of the Rwanda massacre. Beginning at 13:16 she recounts how the victims were widely described as cockroaches. When you dehumanise people it is easier to kill them. That thread is left hanging till she reclaims it with huge impact much later.

Tempted though I am to offer more of the legion of such examples, it’s better that you should simply absorb the brilliance of his speech for yourself. There is so much to learn from it.

Likewise her delivery is stupendously good. Her pace, her timing, her phrasing, her instinct for speaking with her audience rather than to them, are as skilled as I’ve seen anywhere.

I am not altogether surprised. I do more of my distance coaching with people in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world, and the talent I find from there is world-beating. I have long held the view that the key to Africa’s development is for the west to get the hell out of their way. The road to Africa’s hell is paved with the west’s good intentions. Ok it’s more complicated than that, but not much.

As to this speech I have just one suggestion, and any trainee of mine will already have spotted it.

She begins with a thank-fest and I don’t think she should, because she shows hump symptoms for the first minute or two. A thank-fest is important, laudable, desirable, necessary, all those things of course; but there is no divine edict that says you should open by thanking people, and a host of reasons for not doing so. I won’t bore you with them here: you’ll just have to take my word for it.

The thank-fest is like the titles and opening credits to a film. They usually appear at the opening, but not always. With some films there is an episode that precedes the credits. If Uju (I understand that to be her nickname) had started without any preamble by going straight into the significance of the music that had accompanied her approach to the lectern, broken off at an appropriate place after about two minutes, swung into her thank-fest including her greeting to the various dignitaries, and then returned to talking about the music I think she would have been far more comfortable, and therefore audience-engaging, for the opening five minutes. There are many reasons, but there isn’t room here.

I could easily try to suggest actual precise places to situate the thank-fest, and ways to drop into and out of it, but what’s the point? She has dramatically shown that her own instincts would make judgements at least as good as mine.

I feel privileged to have watched that.

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.

 

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.