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.

Melissa Menke heading for excellence

In June 2015, in The New York Public Library there took place the Forbes 400 Summit on Philanthropy. One of the speakers was Melissa Menke who was awarded a Forbes 400 Fellowship.

If you are a regular reader of this blog and Melissa’s name seems familiar you may have come across it here.

Trainees of mine might be disappointed that this is not a bald opening, but with only four minutes Melissa doesn’t have time to open with pretty stories. She has to lay out her stall right away. To do so without a greeting might seem churlish, so she is rather forced to have a preamble. “Good morning, I’m Melissa…” is about as short as any preamble could be.

Her first twenty seconds go a little too fast. It is difficult to know whether this is nervousness or an anxiety to fit the speech into its time-slot. But actually the reason is irrelevant because speaking too quickly is such a well known nerve symptom that the audience will automatically interpret it that way, so it is to be avoided.

It is to be avoided not just for that reason. Speaking too quickly to save time is essentially futile. Let us look at the mechanics of it. The actual words are not articulated significantly faster: the speed is in the closing of the gaps between words, in particular the natural pauses between phrases and sentences. I reckon everyone who has ever edited speech-audio has tried to save time by closing these gaps, and we’ve all done it only once because we’ve learnt the painful lesson. It doesn’t work! It’s a mug’s game: you slave for hours trimming these things, turn around and find that you’ve saved just a few lousy seconds.

Never speak too fast in an attempt to save time: take out a sentence or two instead. Otherwise your words and sentences can tumble over each other faster than the listener can absorb them.

Is that happening to Melissa? Barely, but I had to find something to criticize.

This is a beautiful piece of speaking! Nothing gets between her and her natural communication with her audience – and the most important word there is ‘natural’.  I defy you to find any sign of artifice or insincerity. These are real things told you by a real person who is sufficiently comfortable to speak with no invisible masks or screens getting in the way.

I don’t known how much I can claim any credit via the video link sessions we had, but I couldn’t be more proud of her.

E.Calvin Beisner speaks on behalf of the world’s poor

On 27 April 2015 there was held, in Rome, what was called a ‘prebuttal’ to the Vatican’s Climate Summit on the following day. A substantial collection of leading independent scientific experts was assembled to convey a simple message. All the empirical data show that there is no climate crisis.

As the summit the following day was concerned with the role of Christianity in this fictional crisis, one of the speakers at the prebuttal was a theologian, E. Calvin Beisner.

Beisner kicks off uncompromisingly with a bald statement to the effect that his having read fifty books on the science and more than 30 on the economics of climate change, and hundreds of articles and peer-reviewed papers, he can state categorically that the computer models have been shown to be wrong. He gives a few examples of real-world data, but stresses that he will leave the science to the scientists that are speaking at this conference. His concern is with ethics.

He narrates an ethos-laden account of his childhood in Calcutta, leaving us in no doubt that he has seen grinding poverty up close.

He then tells us that there is no empirical evidence that fossil fuels are driving dangerous warming (only empirical evidence is relevant: theoretical projections from computer models are not empirical), but there is overwhelming empirical evidence that the use of fossil fuels to supply abundant cheap energy is crucial for lifting the world’s remaining four billion poor out of the miseries of poverty. There is also overwhelming evidence that our use of fossil fuels enhances plant-life globally by adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

It is a very telling speech. and leaves us with an uncomfortable conclusion. In the face of all that, you have to question either the diligence of fact-checking or (somewhat alarmingly) the motives of anyone who takes any steps to deprive the world’s poor of access to fossil-fuel energy. It is a shameful list that belongs in that category. including the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The issue of those motives was addressed in another speech that we shall examine shortly.

Rose Goslinga triumphs

If you were a very assiduous follower of this blog, and also equipped with a good memory, you might recall this posting from the end of May 2013. Rose Goslinga had delivered a Pop Tech talk about her relatively new business, insuring African farmers against drought. The link will enable you to go back and look at that posting if you wish, but essentially I restricted myself to expressing concern over fussy, distracting visuals, and her own inner confidence that I felt was a little fragile.

In June of this year, in Berlin, she delivered a TED talk.

Inevitably I find myself looking for the vulnerability I spotted previously; and I delight in the dazzling smile with which at the very beginning she bathes the audience. Is it a completely confident smile?

Even before the video started I could answer that. Like every other speaker in history she is experiencing a hump, so there absolutely has to be an element of artifice in that smile. I congratulate her on how well she does it.

Her opening is driven by slides with almost no words on them, so her voice and the pictures complement each other to set the scene and create her required decorum. It lasts a smidgen more than 90 seconds, so her hump will now be receding fast. She swings into ethos, with again wordless slides, and we are given a clear picture of the background to her business. This lasts another minute, so by the time she gets to the nitty-gritty her hump is history and her voice is good and strong.  Excellent construction.

When she is explaining the way her business works, she is much more sparing with her slides, and still they are almost completely wordless. Her visuals never compete with her: that is the key.

I shall not spoil her story by trying to precis it. It’s a good story and she tells it very well. It reaches its punchline with a visual that begins at 8:36 and progresses. That visual, as part of the overall narrative, is simply brilliant. This hardened old cynic actually got the warm fuzzies from it, and it triggered a spontaneous round of applause from the audience.

Her closing is paired with her opening: she closes the circle.

Rose Goslinga is not a trainee of mine, though our having shared acquaintances it is not impossible that she has read my book. If she were my trainee I would be proud as hell.

Rose Goslinga – Mvua ame fika

Business speaking is my niche. I work principally with business people whose speaking centres around the need persuasively to communicate commercial matters to other business people. Yet this blog very seldom addresses business speeches because there are not many out there, on line, on video. I was delighted therefore to be introduced to Pop Tech. I could try to tell you all about them, but it is easier for me to supply a link so that you can see them for yourself. Pop Tech have Popcasts, and today we are going to be looking at one such.

Rose Goslinga has an insurance business that has developed a package that enables small-holding African farmers to be able to afford to protect themselves against drought-induced crop-failure. Here she is explaining it; and she shoots it from the hip – without script or notes.

She has a bald opening. Furthermore it is a James Bond film opening. She settles the audience for 45 seconds by speaking (I think) Swahili for us. In the process she makes it clear that Africa is her home. In fact she establishes that detail in one tiny word – we – “…in Kenya we say…” It is excellent ethos and decorum.

Immediately afterwards she lays out her stall. “I insure the rains.”  Having done that, and before going into detail, she briefly returns to her ethos to consolidate it with some photographs. Thereafter she explains how the insurance works and what it achieves. Her ending is ‘paired’ with her opening, thus closing the circle.  All my trainees will testify how much I advocate closing the circle. In fact her entire structure is very good: she’s kept it simple and dealt in clear concepts. Given all that, how much value could I add if she sought my help?

In terms of material, I would address her visuals. This is always difficult to judge when you are not in the hall itself, but here is a smattering of what I think. Those heart-warming pictures are ideal for ethos and decorum. Her man in yellow, who acted as her weather station, was also very helpful. But I think the abundance of pictures may be counter-productive when she is explaining the nitty-gritty: they certainly are not essential to the explanation. I would expect audience members’ attention to start drifting just after the 2:30 mark. The pictures are fussy and interfere with the clarity of her message. They steal too much of the audience’s focus from her, not least because she almost seems to lean on them for support. And this brings me to my main concern for her.

Her delivery is quiet, slightly shy, but warm and friendly. I am sensing that it conceals a fairly serious measure of stress. I won’t go into all the supposed symptoms, but I repeatedly felt that I’d like to help her kick much of that stress into touch. Without it she could still display the same shyness and warmth – which is appealing and probably her natural self – but she could do it from a much more secure emotional platform. And that would enhance not just this speech but all her speaking, not least by freeing her from dependence on visuals.

Most importantly, it would cause her to enjoy it more.

Allan Savory bucks the environmental trend

Last weekend I was persuaded by a posting on WUWT to watch a video that I have since watched nearly a dozen times. A TED talk by Allan Savory turns on their heads enough environmental preconceptions to drop your jaw to your lap.

Bald opening! I like bald openings because dispensing with any introductory niceties is counter-intuitively relaxing and liberating for the speaker. Nevertheless Savory still for a short while shows subtle symptoms of hump, though the downbeat nature of his delivery conveys calm, confidence and camouflages the nerves very effectively.

For a minute he seems to be treading the worn, weary and widely discredited warmist way, but he has a seismic surprise up his sleeve.

At 1:44 he stuns his audience with a sentence that very few are accustomed to hearing these days, “I have for you a very simple message that offers more hope than you can imagine.” As attention-grabbers go, that could be a lot worse.

Till 4:42 he is establishing decorum, giving background to the environmental problem that he intends to address during the talk. At precisely 4:42 there is both a video cut-away and a sentence that doesn’t quite make sense. I spy an edit point. No matter: perhaps he coughed, or something; but that point marks the beginning of his ethos. Suddenly we are into the story of him, his work, his love of wild animals, and a bitter confession. I’ll let him reveal all of that.

If in the middle of a speech you pose one huge question which, though not truly rhetorical, does not seriously expect to get a reply because there does not seem to be one, and if you throw your arms wide as you pose it, and if you then stand there silently, arms wide, staring at a stunned and mute audience for more than five whole seconds you deserve a medal for bravery. Five seconds under those circumstances is like a week. Who dares wins! He has now very powerfully set the scene for him to answer that huge question. That episode starts at 11:35, and he will hold you spellbound for the rest of the speech.

For that reason I should now shut up. He is far more interesting than I. But wait for your jaw to drop at 17:01. The audience’s applause is more sedate than the expletive that I released.

And now I shall shut up.