Trey Gowdy spellbinds

There is a small group of people whose speeches I go out of my way to watch, whether or not I plan to cover them in this blog. In fact they all tend to have been here often enough for me to feel guilty about the self-indulgence of taking time watching them at all. Trey Gowdy is one such. When he was a US Congressman I saw many stunning speeches, and critiqued three of them – here, here and here. Then he retired from Congress and I occasionally saw him interviewed, but what speeches he may have made seemed not to appear on line.

Then I saw this one, new and not a political speech. Not expecting to cover it here, I went and watched. I have now watched it several times and will watch it more. He is seen delivering a talk at the Second Baptist Church, Houston at the end of June 2020.

The church is led by Dr Ed Young who delivers the introduction. He describes Gowdy as a ‘gifted communicator’ and even if I’d never heard of Gowdy I’d be interested because when it comes to speaking Dr Young is himself no slouch. Shooting from the hip, which immediately labels him a proper speaker, he speaks with respect, warmth and humour. Also there are technical details like his measured rhythm, his timing, and the way he speaks through a smattering of applause.

At 4:45 Gowdy goes to the lectern and places upon it a few sheets of paper whose function seems to be only to keep the lectern warm, because I don’t think he looks at them till he folds them forty minutes later at the end.

He spends about seven minutes, opening with a humorous story. It’s a great joke, which I first heard with two of the personalities being Edward Heath and Harold Wilson – yep nearly fifty years ago. It is strong enough to withstand the passing of the years, but not perhaps to cross The Atlantic in this form. In the telling you need to include personalities and circumstances to which your audience can so easily relate that it has to be essentially parochial, an augmented in-joke. His audience loves it.

Seamlessly, at 11:50 he swings into his main theme with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” This unmistakeable sentence from the Declaration of Independence, and Independence Day being only a few days away his theme is independence, personal independence. He addresses it from the standpoint of three factors, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Without doubt any trainee of mine will instantly recognise the value of that structure, how it makes speaking without notes for forty minutes really simple and how he can take the audience with him all the way.

But great communication is more than a neat structure. Gowdy injects a magical alchemy of personal reminiscence, literary allusion, masterful imagery, and thorough horse-sense wisdom, delivered with a superb instinct for measured pace. The occasional giant pause enables important points to sink in but is never so long as to lose his audience. He deploys humour with a formula of little-and-often and it is always delivered dead-pan and thrown away.

Elbert Hubbard is credited as having observed that –

The Highest Applause is Silence

Throughout this speech you could hear an ant licking its lips. The audience is spellbound, as am I. This forty minutes is a life lesson for anyone.

At 43:25 Dr Young reclaims the stage to summarise and conclude.

Why I like Prof Deepak Malhotra

On 23 April 2012, Prof. Deepak Malhotra delivered this talk to graduating MBA students at Harvard Business School.

I like this guy!

I like what he says and how he says it. Even if I didn’t agree with him I would like how he says it. He conveys just the right amount of conviction and authority without overflowing into dogma, and he achieves that with a judicious addition of sincere warmth. He is talking to the students about happiness, and begins by pointing out that even though they are at the very pinnacle of human privilege there’s a strong danger that they won’t proceed to be any happier than – say – underprivileged folk in starving and dangerous parts of the world. And he does that without launching a guilt trip.

He talks about the value of quitting a job, maybe being prepared to quit often. How are we supposed to know what occupation suits us till we try it? I find myself remembering a conversation I had with someone when in my twenties. My having listed the many occupations I had so far tried he drily asked me what I was going to do next. I eventually happened upon what was for me the best job in the world – but more of that later.

I’m a words person, and so is he. (I rather like the chance coincidence that this speech was delivered on the traditionally observed birthday of William Shakespeare.) His title for this talk is “Tragedy & Genius”, but he has gone back to etymological purity for both those words – I enjoy the obvious relish with which he explains them. He also uses the word, “Delta” unusually. Delta means different things to a classicist or a cartographer; but it means something else again to a mathematician, and here he uses it in this last sense. MBA students will certainly have¬†studied profit margins, so he doesn’t bother to explain this meaning to them.

I like his blunt and assertive epistrophe on the word “genius” at 8:37. I like the anadiplosis with the word “conflict” at 21:05. Because he’s a words man I suspect he knows those terms, but both are deployed without a shadow of self-consciousness – in fact, probably unconsciously.

He is using slides. You can tell by the remote control in his hand; otherwise we would hardly know. Only a couple of times the camera zooms back enough for us to have a glimpse of what’s on the screen. And it doesn’t matter: we don’t need them!¬†His structure is so clear and strong, his narrative thread so distinct, that for us the talk holds up easily with invisible visuals. Needless to say he needs no script, no notes, no signposts from the slides.

At 42:05 he invites questions without yet having closed the speech. My heart leaps! My trainees, or readers of The Face & Tripod, will know this is an obsession of mine. Put your Q&A at the end of the main body of the speech but before your closing – the book explains why. Speakers who do that are as rare as hens’ teeth, but he’s one of them.

I find it reassuring when I find this much mature wisdom in people the same age as my sons. It means there’s a chance – though I can’t judge them dispassionately – that they have it too. Also this speech causes me to examine closely my own feelings with regard to my work. What I find is the indescribable elation I feel when leaving at the end of a course; and I’ve stripped from someone the fear, inhibition, and a whole heap of other baggage that previously was holding them back. I shall never retire: I have the best job in the world.

I like that guy!