Detlev Schlichter – disappointingly flabby.

In January 2012 Detlev Schlichter spoke at the Adam Smith Institute at an event entitled “Monetary Reform & the Eurozone Crisis”. Schlichter is an Austrian School economist whose expertise is somewhat more than theoretical. Having spent almost as many years trading in international financial markets as I have spent teaching communication skills, he knows how many beans make five. His award-winning book, Paper Money Collapse, and his highly opinionated blog clearly show he has strong views to impart. His regular pundit appearances on the broadcasting media indicate that he also has a lot to say. My question is, how well can he say it on a speaking platform?

Bald opening! Because of etiquette niceties a bald opening is not always appropriate, but if the occasion permits I always recommend it. Though its use feels a little strange at first, I have never found a speaker who didn’t eventually find it liberating.

He has a script, but he is not being a talking head. He is not wedded to that paper: he glances at it from time to time but mostly his face addresses his audience. As a result he engages much more thoroughly with his audience than he would have done had he been reading.  At 2:20 with the words, “this debt is completely out of line…” he begins a well-constructed anaphora triad. I wonder whether this was written in his script or whether he uttered it spontaneously.

So far so good, but his structure lets him down. It consists of his asking himself a series of questions – why are central banks doing this? what does the market do? how have policy-makers tried to do this? how could we get into such a mess? and so on. For him it’s a tempting technique, as he is accustomed to being interviewed. All he thinks he has to do is ask himself the questions he would like an interviewer to ask.

It’s a mistake.

It’s not an unusual mistake, but it’s still a mistake. I have to hit you here with a piece of interviewology that is a little counter-intuitive, so I am going to ask you to take it on trust. Interviewees who know their subject and who know what they are doing sparkle brightest when answering unexpected or even undesirable questions. Questions you ask yourself will be be neither: they will be pat-a-cake questions which merely yield pat-a-cake answers. And that equals flabby.

This speech is flabby. He has some strong things to say – e.g. government bonds are essentially parasitic – but he says them only after he has put his audience to sleep. He spends the first half giving us a history lecture on the abandonment of the gold standard and the disaster of the fiat money system that succeeded it. Flabby! Just after the 11-minute mark he gives us a quotation from Ludwig von Mises, essentially foretelling the current financial meltdown. I would have had him starting the whole speech with that and, as it is a quotation, I would have had him reading it – in which case he wouldn’t have disastrously muffed it. That would have given him a message and put him in the driving seat. It would also have tightened things and stopped him repeating himself and over-running his time.

Did he have a closing to the speech? I don’t know: he ran out of time and just fell off the end. What a pity, that someone who has important things to say has not learnt how to say them in this medium!


Mark Thornton – unexceptionable: unex…anything!

Some years ago I was in a meeting with the training manager of a company that here shall remain nameless. I had already trained their CEO and this discussion concerned the possibility of my working with other executives. He suddenly asked me whether I had any sort of government-recognized qualification in teaching public speaking. I replied that as far as I knew there was no such thing, which was probably a blessing as I could imagine the joy-sucking automatons that would graduate from such a system. He didn’t seem to see the funny side of that, and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

I think somewhere out there is a school of thought to the effect that it doesn’t have maturity or class unless it’s stuffed-shirt-boring (you may recall the hatchet job I did on an offering by William Hague). This was brought sharply into focus when I came across this speech in which the speaker fought bravely to conceal as much as possible of his personality.

Mark Thornton is delivering a lecture at the Ludvig von Mises Institute in June 2011. He is explaining the difference between Austrian and mainstream economics. He favours the Austrian variety; and I felt bound to confide this information to you because in his struggle to be balanced and even-handed he comes close to hiding that detail. What we have here is 21 minutes of message-lite, emotion-free information, in plain-wrapping. It’s the sort of thing that would have a government-certified inspector of speeches biting his standard-issue clipboard in ecstasy.

Except for five seconds! For that very brief period in an unguarded moment Thornton’s passion peeps out. I’ll tell you a little later where you may witness this minor outrage.

Right at the beginning, from 0:30 there is a section where he explains that Austrian economics is at the same time the oldest, the smallest and the fastest growing school of economic thought. At this point there is a slight teasing suggestion that Thornton is going to get into the driving seat and sell the concept, but no dice.

I really do not know what else to say about this leaden performance. I am no economist, but I find the Austrian doctrine exciting and seductive. Nevertheless if this had been my introduction to it I should not have given it a second glance. It makes me crave to confront Thornton, unpin his communication wings and watch him fly.

He could very easily fly. He knows his subject, and behind all that iron control there is someone who is passionate about it. Do you want to see my evidence? Watch from 19:45, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

And the day that some busy-body half-witted politician (a description that fits too many of them) decides to create a quango to oversee public speaking is the day that I shall retire in disgust.