Ben Shapiro and an amazing speech

At Christmas, I suddenly saw a posting on Twitter to the effect that Ben Shapiro had delivered “an amazing speech and received a standing ovation”. I was immediately interested, as I had read many articles by him and had watched bits of speeches which had been disrupted so much by protesters that it had been impossible for me to evaluate. Nevertheless I had been impressed by the former, and guardedly so by the latter. Was this the opportunity to critique him properly? Where and when was this speech?

The answers were (a) yes, and (b) I haven’t been able to find out. But here it is…

We join it halfway through a sentence, yet the speech apparently hasn’t started.  The sentence that follows gives us the title of the speech, ‘Why Freedom Succeeds While Collectivism Fails‘. He is pitting freedom against collectivism; not capitalism versus socialism or right versus left, but freedom versus collectivism. I find that interesting. The right/left dichotomy has actually become blurred and corrupted when so many institutions automatically classify anything wrong as right wing. I have even heard Stalin’s pogroms described as a right wing policy. Likewise the terms capitalism and socialism come these days much confusing baggage. I am impressed that Shapiro skirts all this so neatly.

And he needs to. He needs there to be no doubt what he is saying because he takes no prisoners while saying it. This is blunt! We have become so accustomed to politicians and commentators being mealy mouthed and smothered in caveats, particularly when criticising the left – sorry, collectivism, that it is a little startling to hear Shapiro say that this collectivism is evil. He’s right, of course, but we’re not used to hearing it.

He even dares to say that this collectivism has evil intent, and he will prove it by itemising how it breaks each of the Ten Commandments. I immediately smile with professional approval because a structure like that is a gift to a speaker provided he knows the Commandments by heart. Shapiro, wearing a Yamaka, seems to stand a good chance.

Then why does he keep looking down at the lectern? Does he need prompting? No of course he doesn’t: the lectern is a comfort blanket. It’s a pity, because those periods when we lose his eyes, albeit momentarily, take the edge off his effectiveness.

I don’t mean those occasions when it is absolutely correct to read from the lectern, for instance when he quotes someone – there are a few occasions when he does –  I mean those glances down when we know he didn’t need to.

Another thing that takes away some of his edge is the rapidity with which he speaks. I can’t even believe I’m saying this because I am rabidly in favour of speakers being themselves, warts and all, and I am sure this is not nervous gabbling  but simply the way he naturally speaks. But too much gets lost. He loses a couple of laughs and one or two moment of impact because the audience didn’t quite catch what he said.

But for all that, this is indeed an amazing speech. He well deserves his standing ovation.

 

Monica Crowley and freedom.

In May 2014, fairly early in the recent Presidential election campaign, Oconomowoc in Wisconsin was the venue for a speech by Monica Crowley.

About eighteen months ago I hugely enjoyed a short season of seeking out and critiquing some ballsy speeches by American women who had the ability and courage to speak their minds. How on earth did I miss Monica Crowley?

A bald opening!  I love bald openings. When I recommend to my trainees that they give them a try, I am very often met with incredulity. This is because people assume that waffling through a period of largely meaningless preamble is a good way to smooth your way in. I counter with pointing out that creeping slowly down the steps into a cold swimming pool seems like a good way to smooth your way in, but isn’t.

One ingredient in many preambles is an audience schmooze. Crowley understands its value, but instead of opening with it before the audience has fully settled she holds it back for half a minute, primes them a little and then hits them. You may find it icky, you may roll your eyes, but you’re not in that audience. She has timed and tailored it specifically to that audience, they love it, and she knew they would. We’re watching a pro at work.

The move from the schmooze to the serious business is seamless. You can’t see the join, but you can hear how suddenly the audience has gone quiet. She’s got them where she wants them and they are listening. She’s good!

Some of her message is tough, but she contrives never to sound tough. Brimful of conviction, strong on facts and logic, but always approachable not tough.

It’s an impressive speech. She has sincerity and passion, and she knows how to use both to put the moral case for freedom.

 

 

 

 

President Trump: polished

On 6 July in Warsaw President Trump delivered a speech to the people of Poland.

It was greeted in general by the press in the USA and UK with a warmth that was rather luke. That’s not a surprise: Trump Derangement Syndrome has become so modish among the chattering classes that it even has a name – that one. A few minutes research through the English language sections of the Polish press yields a very different story: they lurved the speech.

Why don’t we have a look for ourselves?

We join it in the middle of joyful chants of “Donald Trump”, before a wreath-laying ceremony which itself is followed by a brief speech by the First Lady. I have seen this described as ‘predictable schmooze’, though I reckon its actual existence is unpredictable. I have failed to find in my memory another FLOTUS speech under these circumstances. It is competently delivered, contains a little meat in the schmooze, and I doff my hat to her for it.

After more chanting of his name, POTUS begins at the six-minute mark.

The sound on this video suffers from sporadic bursts of very loud amongst long periods of rather quiet. I believe that this is caused by Automatic Volume Control. AVC can be a blunt instrument that worries during big pauses and winds itself up to look for sound in the silence. Added to that, I think it has been programmed also to adjust the volume on the ‘atmos’ microphones that are supposed to feed us the audience response. Audience applauds, POTUS pauses, microphone system has panic attack trying to catch up with what is happening, POTUS starts speaking again, and blasts our eardrums. I comfort myself that though we are getting our feed of his voice from the same microphone as the audience they are unlikely to share our volume craziness.

He is using AutoCue, or equivalent. Even before we spot the perspex screens, we know that this speech is one of those which absolutely has to be scripted. Very soon after he starts we also get glaring confirmation at 7:35 when he has to correct himself. Having said “sincere” he tells us that he means “sincerely”. No one says the former when they mean the latter, so he has to be reading. If reading and the script scrolls up too slowly and the last syllable is on the next line the mistake is easy. I reckon the error comes from the AutoCue operator, which I mention only because that is very rare indeed. They tend to be brilliantly skilled. The smoothness with which Trump makes the correction is also skilled. He is only a minute-and-a-half in, and already in complete control.

The early part of the speech is more diplomatic schmoozing – how could it be otherwise? There’s a warm moment when he names Lech Walesa who is in the audience and stands for a bow. But as the speech progresses the subject matter gets more purposeful. What I particularly like is the judicious mixture of that which is spoken for the benefit of the onlooking world and that which is aimed at his immediate audience.

One device he uses to achieve this is by expressing a link between the two countries as co-representatives of the free West. Poland is one of the European countries that has paid its agreed share of the cost of NATO, and now is resisting huge pressure from Brussels to take a proportion of the gigantic influx of migrants – or, to put it another way, bail Merkel out of her madness. Poland is accustomed to huge pressure, and Trump goes out of his way to itemise some of the many ways it has been tossed on stormy seas over the centuries only for its spirit to triumph.

The speech gets very powerful at 18:50, talking of Soviet occupation, leading to his recounting the holding of a Mass in Victory Square on 2 June 1979 by Pope John Paul II. He culminates in a spellbinding moment where he speaks of the million in that square who “did not ask for wealth, did not ask for privilege”. They wanted God.

He goes on to highlight the inroads of those who would destroy what western civilisation has achieved. This is another wonderfully powerful section, not least because of his referring not only to the threat of the enemy from without but also the enemy within. This section alone would make this speech a triumph, because – script or no – he gets firmly in the driving seat of his message and presses the throttle.

For his peroration he swings at 36:00 into an account of Jerusalem Avenue in the Warsaw Uprising. I doubt there’s a soul in that audience that does not know the story, but won’t mind hearing it again – particularly while the whole world is listening. The final auxesis comes out through more chanting of “Donald Trump” and is greeted by a standing ovation which is very definitely not a hollow formality.

That’s a bloody good speech!

Donald Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea. Though he may have flaws, he loves his country, what it has achieved and what it stands for; and that’s unfashionable among the self-regarding, self-appointed elite in the USA. But what they particularly can’t forgive is that so do the electorate that made him President.

 

Here’s your answer, Alice

Yesterday out of the blue I received from you a timeline message on Facebook saying that you were confused by all the conflicting messages and didn’t know how to vote in tomorrow’s EU referendum. Could I provide guidance?

Our brief public exchange quickly looked like turning into a slanging match between various factions that joined in.  I eventually pointed out to everyone that they were trespassing on a conversation I was having with my stepdaughter, and could they please calm down? You deleted your post. Today I shall spend eight hours travelling, with a two-hour meeting in the middle. What better way to spend all that time on trains, writing you a slightly fuller reply? I shall keep it as short as I reasonably can, though that may well make it a little simplistic. Bouncing around in a train isn’t the best environment for checking data details. This is broad-brush time.

I’m not surprised you are confused. The past weeks have seen a tsunami of prejudices, claiming to be facts, pouring over us from all sides: arguments over economy, sovereignty, security, immigration, free trade deals, and so on. It may surprise you to learn that I intend to address essentially none of those.

Throughout history there has been a remarkably consistent pattern to the way empires, even the biggest and strongest, eventually crumble and fall. Very ancient civilisations like the Sumerian were phenomenally rich and powerful but collapsed. Similar fates befell empires throughout history in both the west and east up to and including the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The mistake they all appear to have made was that their ruling elites became too detached and alienated from their societies – the people. Those elites, be they princes or politicians, lost sight of a hugely valuable truth, namely that the powerhouse of a society is in the combined ingenuity and industry of the ordinary people. As soon as the toffs forget that fact they are on a slippery slope, because that’s when they begin trying to run things through central planning; and central planning has always been disastrous.

You can be the cleverest person the world has ever seen, but just a handful of ordinary people with the right experience will wield greater wisdom than you. That is why central planning is a disaster: it always kills societies. The EU loves central planning almost as much as Stalin did.

But where is evidence of this ‘slippery slope”? All societies beginning to fail go through a similar process:

  • they start practising all manner of fiscal irresponsibilities like printing cash, introducing capital controls, borrowing far too heavily etc. Seem familiar?
  • they get more and more control of the news media, not overtly but covertly. They buy lots of advertising, they dole out honours, they cosy up to them in all sorts of ways. Seem familiar?
  • They move in on education, making sure that all the ‘right’ things are told the children. Seem familiar?
  • They invent ‘beneficial crises’, synthetic scares that cause the populace to be suddenly more inclined to do as they’re told. Seem familiar?
  • They find ways and excuses to undermine democracy, treating their electorate with barely concealed contempt. Seem familiar?
  • They hollow out, infiltrate and neutralise any and all organisations (the UK parliament for instance) that could challenge them.  Seem familiar?
  • They make sure, either by bribes or threats, that key members of society are on their side.  Seem familiar?
  • Politicians, who are elected to be representatives, start calling themselves ‘leaders’. Seem familiar?

Need I go on? Do we see a pattern emerging?

We live in interesting times. All sots of potential dark clouds are hovering over the international horizon. There is no such thing as the status quo – anywhere. When disasters threaten we will need to be nimble; we will need to be able to make key decisions quickly. Being shackled to a lumbering, crumbling hulk which is already threatening to collapse will only get in our way.

You may have noticed that there is one empire I haven’t mentioned – the British Empire. That one didn’t crumble away, but got turned into the Commonwealth. The process was admittedly resisted in some quarters but it all went off successfully, and now is a huge source of pride. There is a historic detail that might have had something to do with our rare achievement in doffing our empire relatively peacefully. We have a history of putting despots in their place. Think of Magna Carta in 1215, the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Even the American Revolution was in a very real sense a case of Englishmen holding steadfastly to their rights – which is why Magna Carta is every bit as important to Americans as it is to the British. Think of the two world wars, when we rescued Europe from despots. Democracy has been bitterly fought for across the centuries by our forbears, and is part of our heritage. Could we really be on the verge of binning in it in one last democratic act?

Vote Remain and you vote away your vote.

As far as I am concerned there is simply no choice tomorrow. We must leave.

Jeff Deist: optimistic.

In Costa Mesa, California, 8 November 2014, the Mises Institute held a Mises Circle. These are one-day seminars of information concerning the Institute and its messages.

A few weeks ago we examined a speech made at this gathering by the Institute’s founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.  Today we are looking at a speech by the Institute’s President Jeff Deist.

Almost immediately we learn key things about Deist’s public speaking ability, namely that he has not properly learned how to do it. His microphone technique is essentially non-existent, and he is reading a script. The Mises Institute website tells me he regularly delivers keynote speeches – ye Gods!

He is too close to the microphone, so he pops and distorts horribly – particularly at the beginning. It takes two minutes (max) to teach someone to work a microphone infinitely better than this, and another fifteen to make them really skilled. It can take as little as two hours to free a speaker forever from any dependency on script or notes, and when thus liberated the fluency and potency of their delivery leaps up dramatically. I know there are misguided public speaking teachers who insist that a script is essential, and I have argued with some online. I no longer bother: they’re just wrong.

As the host for the day, with all the attendant welcoming and housekeeping ingredients that involves, Deist takes three and a half minutes to begin laying out his own stall. That’s not his fault: it’s the nature of the beast, but for our purposes it has the advantage of being three and a half minutes when we who are not attending the seminar don’t have to listen but can analyse his delivery. We can watch how he gets steadily freer, more fluent, more compelling and more persuasive during the gaps between looking down at his paper. It’s like watching horses run a steeplechase, with each look at his script being a jump which, far from helping him, actually slows him down and diminishes his power. It is such a pity.

His message is intriguing, particularly for me believing passionately in people and the sovereignty of the individual. I think that it automatically follows therefore that I believe in democracy, but he challenges that. I like my assumptions being challenged. His creed seems on the face of it to be a reductio ad absurdum of what I would regard as a rational standpoint. The Austrian school of economics appeals, as does freedom and small government, but no government…? I must go to the Mises bookstore page and get myself challenged by an anarchist.

Meanwhile my immediate challenge is this speech. Fascinating though I find the content, the speech itself is frankly dreary.  I know that I could transform it beyond measure in just a couple of hours with him; and in the process turn him into a real speaker for life.

Lew Rockwell: a wise head, but a talking one.

At the end of January 2016 in Houston, Texas, the Mises Institute hosted a conference at which one of the speakers was the Institute’s founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.

I quite often receive, from past trainees, panic emails about the pitfalls involved in introducing important speakers. They are right to be concerned, because it can be a minefield, but I shan’t burden you here with all the guidelines. There is, though, one very simple principle. The more important the guest, the shorter should be the introduction. Jeff Deist, President of the Mises Institute, clearly knows this rule. He’s gone inside 20 seconds.

When Rockwell begins it takes even less time for me inwardly to groan, because he is reading a script. I may one day devote here an entire post to why speakers should never read a script, but for the moment let me list some aspects of audience-engagement which are damaged by script-reading: credibility, fluency, perceived sincerity, comprehensibility, flexibility, nerve-control, and perceived command of the subject. How’s that for starters? Also – and I admit this is counter-intuitive – if you know what you are doing paperless speaking is safer, much safer, and I’ll defend that opinion to anyone.

Rockwell is a good writer, and I’d love to read this speech, but writing and speaking are completely different disciplines and it is ridiculously hard work listening to it. And this opinion comes from a maverick-by-nature who agrees with nearly everything that Rockwell stands for.

From his own site I found my way to a podcast on which he was interviewed. I was not in the least surprised to find that – shooting from the hip – he was expressive, fluent and coherent to a degree that was unrecognisable from this agonisingly stilted talking-head reading. Furthermore in that podcast he sounded relaxed and at ease, whereas in this speech I am picking up stress symptoms almost to the end.

So why is he reading a script? The answer, in this context, is ironic. He is conforming to an established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Thou shalt write and read thy speeches! The Mises Institute, this conference, this speech, indeed Lew Rockwell himself are all about resisting established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Do you understand therefore why I tear my hair in frustration? One hour over a video-link would be more than enough for me to set him free from that paper tyranny.

A conference from the Mises Institute is nevertheless a treat for me.  I shall stick with it, and pray that another speaker actually speak to us.

Mark Steyn: if it’s not the crusades…

On 26 September, 2015, in a room in the Danish Parliament in Copenhagen, there was held an event that the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office deemed so inflammatory, extremist and fraught with controversy that, clutching their pearls, they advised people against going near it. It was certainly dangerous. International Conference: The Danish Muhammad cartoon crisis in retrospect was its title. Free speech was its theme.

That is the fourth time I have published that precise paragraph. The other three were for speeches from –

That is a roll of honour. I commend all their speeches. I also commend the fourth and last speech at this conference. It is from Mark Steyn.

Though I am certain the conference organisers selected their speakers purely on the strength of their manifest commitment to free speech, they could scarcely have offered up a greater range of tone colour. Compare for instance Murray to Steyn. Where the one fences with an epée the other wields a knobkerry. Don’t try to decree which is more effective: just enjoy the contrast.

Nice opening! I have made a similar observation in this blog concerning the diction of those for whom English is not their first language.

In a formidable communication armoury Steyn has one astonishing skill. He is able to recount the most horrendous stories using dry humour in a way that attracts many little laughs from the audience right up to the moment he unleashes the punchline; and he does it without reducing the horror of the story. He displays this skill repeatedly in this speech, but never more tellingly that in his account of Molly Norris, beginning at 3:50. The most serious section in the whole speech begins at 27:00 where, paradoxically, he is talking about jokes.

My trainees, or readers of my book The Face & Tripod will know the value that I place on making a speech possess a Face. Steyn gives this speech a Face by quoting George Bush.

If it’s not the crusades it’s the cartoons

It’s a good speech. Like all of the speeches at this conference it’s an important speech.

Watch it.

At the beginning of this series of four blog-postings I said that I saluted everyone connected with this conference in Copenhagen last September. Now, after several hours of watching and re-watching those speeches and becoming rather attached to that androgynous figure that is the logo of Trykkefrihedsselskabet constantly overlooking the lectern, I do more.

I applaud them.