Jacob Rees-Mogg: a long investment.

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. One of them was Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very fine speaker, so I haven’t wasted the opportunity to bring the speech here.

I enjoy listening to his speaking not only because of his articulacy, coherence, his skilful delivery, and so on but because I admire the man. The beautiful balance of his arguments is not artifice. His old-fashioned manners and cut-glass accent may suggest that he is cold, distant and out of touch, but his record dramatically belies that. There are examples of his having, for instance, courteously drawn the claws of quite hostile opponents on TV panel discussions.

He is introduced by Barry Legg, Chairman of this meeting and indeed of the Bruges Group. JRM, as I shall call him hereafter for brevity, begins just after the 4-minute mark though you may like to join at around 3:50 in order to understand his first sentence.

Preliminaries over, he tells his audience that if people take the trouble to come to these meetings, for whatever reason, he wants to engage with their arguments. He is as good as his word. At this same meeting there is disruption from invading protesters waving banners saying “Tories Out”. Before bouncers can evict them, JRM approaches one in order to exchange thoughts. You can watch the episode here.

Of course JRM uses no paper. At 6:38 a bell is heard tolling in the distance. He instantly utters a throw-away quip, being well rewarded with a laugh. This sort of spontaneity is one of the hallmarks of those who shoot from the hip. Audiences love both, and both are absurdly easy.

The speech was well received by the Twitterati at the time it was delivered. I am pleased to agree.

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.



Simon Heffer – boom but not bust.

On 1 February, 2012, The Bruges Group was addressed by British journalist, Simon Heffer. The Bruges Group is a British Think Tank, known to be anti-EU. Some find it puzzling that such an organisation should call itself after a city in Belgium, but it takes its name from a speech delivered in Bruges by Margaret Thatcher on 20 September, 1988; and anyway euro-sceptics are typically very fond of Europe and its peoples, while disapproving of the unaccountable clique that runs the EU.

Simon Heffer has studied speech-making: indeed he is the compiler/author of Great British Speeches, an anthology published by Quercus. I have a copy and can vouch for the intelligent, erudite, and insightful backgrounds and summaries that he gives of the great speeches transcribed therein. I approach with trepidation conducting a critique of one of his own speeches. In the event I find myself instead exploring an interesting feature of the video recording.

His quip at the beginning harvested a satisfactory laugh, not least from me. Mindful of my global readership I know that many will not understand it. It would be pointless, trying to explain: let’s move on.

Actually I’d like to move back a few seconds, because this video gives me a chance to explore an interesting ploy that some speakers use.

The first sound we get is the very end of his introduction, and then the first words spoken by Heffer. The sound is quite different. Heffer booms in a way that his introducer doesn’t.

Rooms, like everything else have resonant wavelengths, and Heffer’s voice precisely catches that of this room which resonates in sympathy. Is he doing it on purpose? I doubt it: studying speech-making on an academic level is quite different from studying that sort of esoteric technique – and my doubt has another reason.

It is not helping him. With fairly extensive practice you can learn how to find, catch and hold the resonance of some rooms (churches tend to be easy), and use it to enhance your vocal resonance. But if you do so you absolutely must ‘turn up the treble’ on your enunciation. Your sibilant consonants must be super-crisp, and every syllable must be pronounced, or your intelligibility gets swamped by the booming echo. If Heffer was booming on purpose, he would be enunciating more clearly. There’s not much wrong with his enunciation for normal purposes, but with that booming he is quite hard to hear.

Mind you, the people in the room hear him much more clearly than we do. Our sound is almost certainly coming from the microphone built into the camera, which picks up omnidirectional ambient noise. I am sure we are not getting a feed from one of the three microphones in front of him or our sound would be much better. So does that mean that this is all purely a characteristic of the recording and that Heffer is not really booming at all, and that I have just been wasting your time? No it doesn’t. Go back and listen to the first couple of seconds again. His introducer provides us with a ‘control’. He doesn’t boom in anything like the same way. Heffer is booming all right!

Whether or not you find it difficult to hear everything he says, it is certainly worth the effort. The speech is well structured, well argued and well delivered. It is also mostly shot from the hip. Listen, mark, learn, and inwardly digest!