Nigel Farage has stopped gurning!

In July 2013 Nigel Farage delivered a speech in Canada, at the invitation of Preston Manning. I rather think, though I have failed definitely to establish it, that the event took place at the Manning Centre in Calgary.

He begins at 1:50, but if you jump straight there you will miss Preston Manning’s introduction. There is a telling round of applause at 1:10, which shows us very clearly that, on this occasion at least, Farage is among friends and will be pushing against an open door. This will make a change from banging heads in Brussels.

As part of his preamble Farage utters at 2:17 a sentence that shows us very clearly that this speech was delivered last year and not this.

Farage is a good speaker.

He shoots from the hip of course, but that’s easy. The quality that will always grab an audience is transparent conviction and the willingness to express it. Farage has this by the bucketful, which is what puts his speaking so far above that of the leaders of the other three leading political parties in Britain. Detractors call him brash, but for people outside the Westminster bubble, bored with the duplicitous wittering of the witterati, that’s scarcely a criticism. Obvious sincerity will compensate for a dearth of speaking technique; and incidentally Farage is not short of technique.

I have a particular allergy to a habit some speakers have for telegraphing their gags. There is one alleged comic, based in Britain, who utters a loud “err!” just after every punch line, to cue the audience’s laughter. It occasionally works, but it’s so lame! Farage used habitually to pull a “here comes a good one” face, and I have written that he would do himself a favour if he stopped it. Nowadays it is so slight as to be essentially non-existent, and I applaud him for that.

Recently Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal-Democrat party in Britain, challenged Farage to a broadcast debate on the EU. Farage of course picked up the gauntlet, and suggested that Cameron and Ed Miliband should join the party. They hastily cited pressing appointments. It should be an interesting match nonetheless.

Mark Steyn – brilliant, but he must tend to the spoke not to the wrote.

Mark Steyn is a Canadian journalist. He is a contrarian that actually believes in freedom and democracy, rather than the cushioned cages offered by the world’s fashionable western bureaucracies.

On 29 February, 2012 he was speaking at a meeting of the Institute of Public Affairs in Australia.

English as she is spoke and English as she is wrote are subtly different languages. One of these days I shall write a full-scale essay on the subject; but for now I’d just like to return to a theme that I have oft – that’s apocope, if you’re interested – oft explored concerning a speaker being a talking head.

Steyn is reading his speech. He doesn’t read all of it: now and then his face addresses the room and he goes off on one. When he does, the speech comes alive. The rest of the time it comparatively lacks oomph.

On other occasions in this blog I’ve highlighted a range of advantages to constructing your speech in such a fashion that you have a clear enough mind-map for you to shoot the whole thing from the hip –

  • Audiences love it
  • It frees you to adjust the material on the hoof
  • If your face isn’t forever looking down, you are less likely to pop your microphone
  • It says all the right things about your command of the subject, confidence, sincerity, spontaneity,
  • It forces you to structure the material in a format that you can remember, and as a byproduct you make it easier for your audience to digest.
  • etc.

This speech is only 35 minutes long, and if he had been taught how to do it Steyn could easily have shot it all from the hip.

I’d like to add to that list of bullet-points another factor that comes into play here. It amounts to a challenge. I suggested earlier that there was a lingual difference between written and spoken English. I contend that you can close your eyes, listen to Steyn, and know when he is speaking and when he is reading. There’s a difference in the rhythm, the intensity, the sheer energy that comes out of the words. There’s even a difference in the words. This is where those who have been taught, or taught themselves, skilfully to handle paper too often fail.

Mark Steyn handles paper better than Brendan O’Neill and less well than Boris; but till he finds himself having to make a range of different speeches, day after day, it’s a wasted, indeed counter-productive skill. The skill he needs is learning to do without, and it continues to amaze me how few have it. In nearly fifty postings on this blog barely a handful of speakers have delivered without paper.

He writes brilliantly. He speaks very well, but less brilliantly. If he would only learn how to speak without paper, and trust himself to do it, his speaking would rise to the quality of his writing.

I will admit that there are occasions where it is appropriate, in fact better, to read the material. If you are quoting someone else at length, then by all means unashamedly do that from paper. I mention this because there is just such an example in this speech. At 9:35 Steyn quotes David Icke in an hilarious section that I would not have missed for anything.

In fact, I would not have missed the whole speech. It is brilliant; but particularly when he shoots from the hip.

P.S. [added 14/3/13] Since posting this, I have seen several instances of Steyn speaking without paper. He can do it. So why did he not do it here? I can only assume that he felt this high-profile event required greater security. That’s a mistake: paperless speaking, properly prepared, is actually more secure than its scripted equivalent.

Donna Laframboise – surrendered her focus to slides

Donna Laframboise is a Canadian investigative journalist who has a blog called No Frakking Consensus. She is also the author of The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert. She says that the blog began as notes for the book which is an expose of The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I’ve read her blog, and she writes well: how does she speak?

In July 2012 she was invited to speak at a meeting of Australia’s Institute of Public Affairs.

She seems not to bother with ethos. We seem not to be told anything about her credentials for standing there, speaking to us. Then again we don’t see her introduction. I have a suspicion that all her credentials were aired before we joined the party. The first we see and hear is about a minute’s worth of humble thanks and tributes to the host organisation – and this gives me an opportunity briefly to ride one of my hobby-horses.

In my experience this is a mistake. However sincerely we mean it – and I have no doubt she does – sticking a thank-fest on the front of a speech is mildly counter-productive. I hold this opinion not through firm knowledge as to why it should be (though you will see I have theories), but through studying audiences. It switches them off.

It could be that it smacks of smarmy Oscar award ceremonies; it could be that the audience is thinking that thou dost protest too much; it could be impatience – “yeah, yeah, just cut to the chase!”. I suspect there’s an element of much of that, but my favoured theory is that you belittle yourself at just the time you should be establishing your authority. Watch the start of this speech and she is thanking them for having bothered to leave their comfortable homes to listen to little old her.

I am certainly not saying that it is wrong to pay these tributes, merely that you should not do it at the beginning. You need to find another way to fill that audience-settling minute, and another place to put the tributes. It isn’t even good for hump-busting because you have yet to seize control of the proceedings. Look at how the first thing she does at the end of the thank-fest is to grab a drink of water. She still has a dry mouth! The audience is eagerly hear-hearing what she said, but they are not yet her audience.

Immediately afterwards she hits them between the eyes with a wonderful opening sentence, delivered with all the authority I could wish. That switches them on. Now they are her audience.

Within seconds she appears to commit an error which I bet any trainee of mine, or reader of my book, will have spotted. She refers to “a professor at the University of Colarado…” without naming him. I seize my notepad. A minute or so later it emerges that she merely deferred naming him until she could display him up on the screen. It was Roger Pielke jr.

Sadly that screen is off-camera, so we cannot tell how Pielke is represented. Is there a handsome portrait, together with a brief list of his accomplishments? Who knows? But this brings me to another of my hobby horses.

Visuals require very careful handling. They very easily break the rhythm of your speech, rob you of your audience’s focus, turn the thing into a slide-show-with-commentary. For us here, the one thing it doesn’t do is rob our focus because we can’t see the slides; but we can see to what extent her flow is impeded by suddenly playing second-fiddle to a bunch of pictures. Also she is surrendering her focus by looking at the big screen rather than at a slave screen in front of her. Were the slides worth it? I can understand why she used them: she wanted a rogues’ gallery. Maybe it worked: I don’t know. I listen in vain for sound clues from the audience, but without seeing the slides themselves I am unable to pass further judgement.

Concerning the speech as a whole, I have essentially one more observation. When referring to Roger Pielke (above) she concedes with respect that though she is sceptical he sincerely believes in the theory of man-made climate change. That sort of intellectual honesty is sadly too often lacking in the climate change debate. That makes her worth listening to. It also makes her worth reading.

When I posted here some weeks ago a critique of a speech by Matt Ridley, I held back on reading his book, The Rational Optimisttill after I’d published my critique. Likewise I have not yet read Laframboise’s book, The Delinquent Teenager Who Was Mistaken for the World’s Top Climate ExpertI note that on its page at Amazon there is a rave review for it from the same Matt Ridley. I really enjoyed Ridley’s book: I’m looking forward to Laframboise’s.

Christopher Monckton – very good indeed!

Search online for references to Christopher Monckton and you quickly learn that he does not have opponents so much as enemies. You also learn how often those enemies have managed to find excuses not to debate him. Let’s find out the reasons for both of those. Here he is speaking to the International Free Press Society in Canada in March 2012.

He is introduced by Eva Ryten, Director of IFPS, Canada. By her own claim she had just three minutes notice, but the introduction is delivered with fluency and assurance – even through the few ‘ums’ and ‘errs’. She completed it in two minutes and even included an amusing anecdote. She’s good.

Monckton is very good. He epitomises the current fashion for conversational sincerity. He delivers material that is beautifully arranged for maximum coherence and impact, and does so with crystal clarity. Grudgingly I highlight his capacity for delivering a lengthy address, filled with data, without the aid of script or notes. It earns the highlight because it is so rare. I am grudging because it should not be rare. It is easy. All my trainees can do it.

He begins at 2:13 and ends at 28:05. The rest is Q&A. The questions range widely in their subject matter but his answers are every bit as coherently answered, and still without paper.

When we are looking at someone this good, it is time for me to get out my finest nit-picking tweezers. He adjusts the microphones, and does so correctly: when he speaks there is no popping. So far so good.

His first words bother me. “My Lords – that’s me…”. I’m sorry, but even a humorous, self-mocking reference to your own peerage is slightly tacky. I know it has become a sensitive subject for him, with people challenging whether he is actually a peer. He is: he’s a viscount by inheritance but the doubt arrived via the fact that he may not sit or vote in the upper house since its reforms. Perhaps that’s why this is in there and I’ve seen him use it on other occasions; but if I were advising him it would be cut.

It is immediately followed by a well-road-tested throwaway line, “I can’t wait to hear what I’m going to say.” It’s not original, but who cares?  it’s a good one.

And then…

“A prostitute, a politician and an engineer were in a bar…”. Anyone who has done a course with me – or even read my book – will tell you that this is virtually guaranteed not to get a laugh. Sure enough, it doesn’t. Was it meant to?  I’m not altogether sure. It has a message that is at least semi-serious and might have exonerated it but he adds a detail concerning “a viscount’s coronet and an old-Harrovian tie”. Re-read my previous paragraph and know why I’d want to remove the whole thing. My only hesitation comes from uncertainty concerning the research he has conducted into this audience (one of them is wearing a Guards’ tie). It may be that he has satisfied himself that this sort of thing will resonate well with them. He does need here about a minute of something to get the audience settled, but I’d be inclined to find something else. If he is particularly enamoured of this story – and in fairness it is a good one – then he should use it elsewhere in the speech.

Regular readers might have noticed how I get mightily exercised about the first minute or two of a speech, often merely referring to the whole of the rest in relatively few words. A speech is like the flight of an aeroplane inasmuch as most of the crucial danger is in the take-off and landing. Once it’s up it largely looks after itself – particularly if the pilot is as expert as this. Monckton lays out his case and expresses it with ruthless power. Small wonder his opponents’ fear has morphed into hatred.

I earlier mentioned conversational sincerity which is the style that audiences seek nowadays. The Monckton variety has none of the silky smoothness of Hannan nor the buffoonery of Boris – though funnily enough, off the platform, he often uses buffoonery to draw attention to his cause. His speaking delivery is matter-of-fact and deliberate, in fact it is blunt. Not for the first time in this blog I find myself drawn to the quotation from W.B.Yeats – Think like a wise man but express yourself like the common people. He speaks slowly in order to be thoroughly understood. Any slower and it might seem patronising. Where Hannan embellishes with elegant phrasing and erudite quoting, Monckton underpins his arguments with truckloads of data and devastating logic. He has done his homework; and if you debated him you would be very foolish not to have done yours, and even more foolish to attempt to fudge any facts.

Perhaps that’s why his enemies seem to restrict themselves to ad hominem sniping from a safe distance.

[added 17/3/13 – or they use fair means or foul to try to prevent his being heard at all. How confident is anyone of their argument when they seek to silence opposing views?]