Steve Milloy is better than a voice-over

At the Heartland Institute‘s 12th International Conference on Climate Change (ICCC) on March 24, 2017, Steve Milloy presented a speech entitled “Resetting Climate Policy”.

I was interested to watch, because I have had a book of his (it’s an exposé of the EPA) on my wish list for longer than I care to admit, and have been following Milloy on Twitter in the mean time.

Speeches from Heartland’s various ICCCs have appeared in this blog for many years, during which time I have watched the production values on their videos go from ‘clunky’ to ‘seriously neat’. You have only to look at that ‘still’ on the video above to see how we get a simultaneous view of the speaker and his visual slide that is nearly as good as that of the live audience. I congratulate them.

I say “nearly” as good because in that window the slide occupies more space than the speaker.  You could argue that it needs to in order that all those words should be legible, and at that point I begin to quarrel with the speaker.

A convention has built over the years that seems to decree that it isn’t a serious presentation unless it is accompanied by slides smothered in verbiage. I fight with that every working day, because it means that the slides are in competition with the speaker for the audience’s attention and the speaker can become a voice-over for a slide-show.

At corporate presentations the speaker is very often presenting a report whose hard-copy contains a fat deck of slides, but that doesn’t mean the speaker has to use all (or any) of them in the presentation. The presentation should not attempt to précis the report but to trail it. The object is to persuade the audience to read the damn thing, and if your précis is too good they won’t.

Does Milloy’s audience at this presentation get a hard-copy of his slide deck? If so I would try to persuade him to leave at least most of the slides out of the presentation.

In Heartland’s defence I bet that most of their ICCC speakers’ slides are graphs, and graphs are when slides become invaluable and detail on them likewise, so I will forgive their dedicating most of the video space to slides.

But what of Milloy’s actual speech? It is very good. It is specifically aimed at his live audience which is knowledgeable on the subject matter, so he doesn’t faff around with unnecessary explanations – e.g. who Tony Heller is (I won’t either); and therefore he gets a whole lot more into the available time. This might leave some video viewers, who are eavesdroppers after all, scratching their heads but perhaps eager to become more knowledgeable.

Speaking of which I really must get on and read his book, Scare Pollution.

 

Mark Steyn makes me LOL

The Heartland Institute’s Tenth International Conference on Climate Change on June 12, 2015, had a keynote speech from Mark Steyn.

I include Mark Steyn on this blog every couple of years or I start suffering from withdrawal. The man is great listening, because he’s opinionated, articulate, and funny. I marvel that the first time I covered a Steyn speech here I castigated him for reading it. I knew then that he didn’t need to (no one needs to) but I hadn’t yet seen him shooting from the hip or, if I may mix my metaphors, spreading his wings and flying. I have now, very many times; in fact the speech we’re watching today was eventually chosen from three over which I spent an enjoyable afternoon agonising.

Actually if I’m going to be desperately picky, and I get desperately picky only with speakers who are desperately good, Steyn does have a script – or at least notes. The difference though, since his first appearance here in March 2013, is that he now writes it in spoken, as distinct from written, English. What’s more he has perfected his technique to the point that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

He has a few speaking mannerisms, like that of repeating his phrases a huge amount, but I’m prepared to bet that without my pointing it out almost no one would notice. It’s my job to spot such things, so I do, but I always tell my trainees the same about mannerisms. If you are interesting/entertaining/absorbing enough no one will ever notice. Steyn’s interest/entertainment/absorption is far more than enough, and that’s another reason that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

And he’s funny! He’s laugh-out-loud funny. He really knows how to do it, and let’s not belittle that skill: it is hugely difficult. Steyn can write funny as well as speak funny, and that’s an unusual combination. A central plank of his spoken comedy is that he doesn’t try to do it all the time, when he does he plays it straight-face and throws it away. Throw-away is a wonderful comedy technique, because it doesn’t pressure the audience by begging them to laugh. Nevertheless it is not speaker-proof: it still needs expert timing, and he has that timing.

At one point – and I won’t spoil it by telling you where – Steyn uses his script as a comedy prop. It’s hilarious enough for me to forgive him the script.

And anyway, though a few years ago I could have easily had him throwing his paper away, if he came to me today I would tell him not to bother. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it certainly ain’t broke.

Jay Lehr sits on no fence

On 29 October the Science Director of the Heartland Institute, Jay Lehr, delivered a talk at the AM 560 Freedom Summit in Chicago. He was always going to be forthright: his published headline reads, “There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence proving mankind has affected the climate on a global scale.”

With my trainees, apart from nuanced subtleties concerning structure and so on, I drum into them that ultimately they simply need their audience to leave the venue knowing absolutely and unambiguously what you intended them to hear. Here we have an example of a speaker successfully aiming at precisely that target.

Ah yes! His opening reminds us that he is speaking a week and a half before the US Presidential Election.

I have made the point previously in this blog when the subject of global warming came up that sceptics tend to show their workings, and alarmists tend to show their skill at name-calling. Having covered speeches from both sides of the debate, I have found conformity to this rule to have been astonishingly consistent. It was this that first raised my suspicion of global warming. I remember noticing several decades ago in the school playground that name-calling was a substitute for reason, and I have found that true in a wide variety of fields ever since.

Lehr shows his workings. He churns out statistics almost incontinently. They tend often to be ballpark statistics because he is shooting from the hip, and in this setting statistical precision is not particularly relevant. He is practising a technique that I call tactical omission. By making assertions without always substantiating them, he gets more of them in; likewise statistics that are broadly correct. There is a Q&A session after this talk, and if anyone wants to challenge anything he has said, you can bet every thread on your shirt that he can substantiate his assertions and fine down statistics to several decimal places, but he’ll be doing it in the questioner’s time not his own. It’s a useful tactic.

Also it becomes clear that he is talking to an audience that is not overburdened with scientific knowledge, so his arguments and parallels are couched always in lay terms. Scientists might be tempted to scorn this speech for this reason, but I wonder whether they’d dare debate him face to face?

This is another facet of the climate issue that attracted my attention some years ago. Sceptics repeatedly challenge alarmists to debates, and alarmists use an hilarious range of excuses to duck out. What has kept the ridiculous thing going, even though a baby born the last time there was any warming is now old enough to vote, is political pressure and the lobbying of vested interests on a scale that is eye-watering. The climate change industry is one of the largest in the world, but even if the planet does warm it will be infinitely cheaper to cope with it when the time comes than to pretend that we can do anything about it now. Never has there been so much energy worthy of a better cause.

Since this speech the US have elected their new President, and he has indicated that he plans to dismantle the American contribution to this industry. He doesn’t have to do much. If the taxpayer simply stops subsidising it, the industry will collapse on its own. Like many I am nervous of Trump, but if he finally lays this climate nonsense to rest posterity will bestow on his legacy plaudits more noble than anything Obama can claim. For instance it could unlock untold potential by awakening the sleeping giant that is Africa, kept sedated all this time by expensive energy.

Anyone who has followed the climate issue for any time will find little new in this speech, but I love the forcefulness with which he puts it across – not least in his exploding the preposterous 97% consensus fiction which never anyway withstood more than a few minutes examination. I see that he does a lot of speaking. I’m not a bit surprised.

Alex Newman rises above his errors.

On 2 November the Heartland Institute, streamed live a talk by Alex Newman which he titled Crimes of the Educators. This is also the title of a book he co-authored with the late Samuel Blumenfeld. If you follow the book’s link to Amazon you will find an exceptional stream of positive reviews.

Lennie Jarratt does the introduction, and deserves a medal. This video was originally live-streamed, which is not that much different from being on TV. Broadcasters are ruled by the clock, and this broadcast has started late. For two-and-three-quarter minutes he takes his audience on a tour of the Institute and its works, delivering a laudable commercial even on the room in which the audience is seated. At 2:45 he finally announces that the speaker has arrived.

This is every speaker’s nightmare, and I put my trainees through it – just keep talking till something over which you have no control happens. In fact I suspect that the speaker had actually arrived before Jarratt began, but Jarratt was giving him a chance to compose himself and load his deck of slides. Nevertheless I tip my hat to him on a sterling piece of filling-in. Newman actually begins speaking at 3:36 and finishes at 34:36, the rest being Q&A.

Half-a-minute into his talk we are faced with his having committed the first of two fundamental speaker’s errors. His slides are smothered in verbiage, and are therefore in constant competition with him for the audience’s attention. Someone needs to take him aside and educate him on this.

(Mind you: simultaneously I find myself tipping my hat to the Heartland Institute whose staging of events and whose attendant technology I have had need in the past to criticise. The split-screening that they use for showing both the speaker and his slides is truly excellent.)

The other fundamental error begins as a suspicion in my mind, and is later confirmed by the speaker. This half-hour talk is a cut-down of a longer one. This is a classic mistake: always start with a short talk and expand when necessary – never the other way around. I could keep you here for hours, explaining the principles behind this rule, but I’ll spare you.

So there he is, rather hyper having rushed here from his last engagement because these book-promotion schedules are notoriously tight, struggling to cut a longer presentation down (and do it on the hoof), working with far too many slides and far too many words on each one.  And yet…

He makes a reasonable fist of it, helped by his being a natural communicator and also having a very powerful message.

I have to admit that for the first few minutes I had him down as a loony conspiracy-theorist, but his documented statistics concerning levels of literacy more than a hundred years ago compared with today shook me to the core. Education standards in the USA really do seem to have travelled southwards at a frightening pace, and a great deal of what he describes is echoed in the UK. Furthermore you do not need conjecture to find deliberate intent on the part of the architects of this trend because that again is documented.

Why does this theme keep cropping up in the activities of unaccountable intellectuals? They embark on noble-sounding projects which always end in tears, but not being accountable they are free to plough on with their ghastly mistakes. The one academic discipline they either do not study, or they studiously ignore, is history. How else would they never learn? How else would they ruin whole societies with their well-meaning but imbecilic ideas?

Or are they really well-meaning? Do we need to examine motives? When you see destruction on this level, that the rest of us could not have achieved more effectively if we’d tried, you have to give space to the possibility that they tried.

As a speech this is abysmally badly composed, but the importance of the message contrives to over-ride that. As often happens on this blog I find myself itching both to read the book and to take this man on one side for a few hours to teach him how to apply his message to this medium.

Barry Poulson isn’t fluffy

In my previous post, which was on Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, I made reference to the current USA administration – of which Mrs Clinton has been a key part – having presided over that country’s being indebted to the tune of “$20-odd trillion”. I am not in a position to know the true figures, but here’s a man who is.

Dr Barry Poulson delivered a talk to the Heartland Institute. It was entitled How Can Fiscal Rules Fix the American Government? 

How indeed? He begins at 04:19. There are severe sound-problems prior to his beginning: persevere.

I do nearly all my work with business speaking. It has particular demands on the speaker, like precision and conciseness. It is also perceived (often wrongly) to be rather hard-edged; and for this reason I enjoy helping people package tough issues in a way that makes them seem relatively fluffy.

Here we have a speaker from an academic environment. His first impression is an avuncular one. Almost immediately we are made to feel that he has all the time in the world, and reckons we have too. He even wanders off to get a drink of water, and is gone for ages; later he becomes inaudible for a time when he takes root on the wrong side of the screen. This man, we tell ourselves, doesn’t need fluffy packaging: he’s already fluffy. Beware! From what I’ve seen of academia it can be every bit as cut-throat as the business world, so ignore sheep’s clothing. The only licence that academics could have over business-people might be freedom from immediate and terminal accountability. Get it wrong and usually you can go back to the drawing board.

Poulson is dealing with an issue (national debt) that everyone has been getting scandalously wrong, and he quickly makes the point that neither of the presidential candidates is talking about it, presumably because there are no votes in it according to the pollsters (remember pollsters? – they’re the people that keep getting it wrong). This is where the $20 trillion number comes up. It exceeds GDP. On this matter Poulson isn’t fluffy: Capitol Hill is. The Executive seems to regard Venezuela as a rôle model.

His message is that without fundamental changes of fiscal direction the USA is toast. That may be unthinkable, but it is feasible and doesn’t have fluff.

There is a way out, and he spends half an hour telling us what it is. Here’s a clue: it’s a little more grown up than taxing the ‘super-rich’, which is why politicians might prefer to see their country gurgling down the drain than put it to the people. Politicians seem to be convinced that people are stupid. That’s why they call themselves ‘leaders’ and expect to be followed by sheep. They are not leaders, they are representatives. They have been delegated to attend to matters, like the nation’s finances, and to do so with competence or be booted out.

The US Constitution begins with its three most important words,

We    The    People.

The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution, but on 23 June We The People were presented with a rare chance to exercise a vote that made a difference. They rose to the opportunity, exercised grown-up judgement, made it clear they were the masters, and what their command was. Their command was the one that would keep them in charge. This was in the teeth of flawed [that’s a euphemism] arguments and judgements being fed to them by ‘leaders and experts’ of all descriptions, including the current US President. They showed they were not sheep to be led, but delegators of responsibility. The sheep among them have been bleating piteously ever since.

Politicians really do need to wake up to the probability that We The People are at least as bright as they, and do something really revolutionary like telling the unfluffy truth. Then possibly they might find that their candour wins them votes, and the USA might just be saved.

Allen West does anger well

On 26 August, 2015, in Dallas, the Heartland Institute held a conference to launch its Constitutional Reform project. Among the speakers was a former member of the United States House of Representatives, Allen West.

I have to admit that I have a problem sometimes understanding him. If this had been an international broadcast, or a speech set up specifically for recording a video for posting on line, I would here take issue with his enunciation. As it is, I am conscious of being merely an eavesdropper for whom there is a difficulty in the interface between his Southern accent and my British ears. This is a video of a conference for a live audience who appear to get every syllable. So my eavesdropping difficulty is my eavesdropping problem.

Regardless of the above, one thing comes across loud and clear. Allen West is angry. He doesn’t want the US Constitution reformed; he wants it restored and upheld. What makes him angry is how the Executive and the Judiciary have been messing around with it.

Between 5:30 and 6:20 there is a very telling section concerning how much the Judiciary, which should interpret the Law, oversteps its authority by contriving to make laws. We all know in principle about case law, but we also can tell when an actor pads up his role. West concludes the section by stating that such symptoms indicate that the Federal Government is off the rails.

That resonates with this particular Brit. Over here we also witness the spectacle of politicians and jurists arrogating the right to circumvent or distort the parliamentary process by finding ways to turn their personal prejudices into law. It’s all part of a re-defining of democracy to mean ‘what we think is good for people, regardless of their view’. In Europe it is typified by the way politicians have steamrollered almost an entire continent in directions contrary to their mandate. The current leader in the race for this year’s biggest unintentional hilarity came a couple of weeks ago from some Euro-twerp who described the EU as a centre of democracy.

Those of us who believe in the sovereignty of people hold to the principle that legislators are merely delegated by us to run things. When they get it wrong we kick them out. When they seek to exceed their brief they need to be brought to heel. The US Constitution grew out of precisely this thinking and was designed to prevent tyranny by keeping authorities in their place. It would appear from what West is saying that some of those authorities are doing their damnedest to subvert it (what the Founding Fathers actually meant to say was…) hence this speech.

West is a good speaker. Though I am pleased, I am not particularly impressed that he shoots the entire speech from the hip. It’s easy. On the contrary I get depressed by how few take the trouble to learn. You can see how well he engages his audience by not having sheets of paper in the way. What really impresses me is how he puts across his anger without getting angry. There’s no table-thumping, no eye-popping, no  bellowing. What we get is a cold laying out of the facts in a manner that leaves us in no doubt where he stands. Put it down to military discipline. He was a colonel in the US Army.

More like him are needed on both sides of the pond.

Anthony Watts – a tale of two paces.

On 12 June, 2015, at the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change in Washington D.C. the Award for Excellence in Climate Science Communication was presented to Anthony Watts.

I need tell you nothing more about this because the award presentation was eloquently preceded by a speech from Tom Harris, Heartland Institute’s Executive Director, International Climate Science Coalition.

Harris has a very relaxed, user-friendly style of speaking. Yes he uses a script, but he piles bags of his own personality into the delivery. If he’d been a trainee of mine he wouldn’t need the script, and he wouldn’t – standing at the lectern – have joined in the applause for Watts. As I’ve said before in this blog that’s one of those rare things that feels right and looks wrong, and the microphone makes it sound wrong also. I’m being picky because this is a well conceived, warm and generous tribute to Watts.

Watts comes to the stage at the 7-minute mark and collects his award. He then gives us several minutes of thanks and tributes. Aside from his also applauding from the lectern, if you have to do an extended thankfest (and sometimes you do) this is the way to do it. There’s no shallow, Oscar-style stuff, thanking the family, the dog, and the teddy bear, these are all professional peer-to-peer tributes. Only the names are on his paper. The actual tributes are shot from the hip, with the sincerity that that implies.

At 11:10 he announces a new project. For a reason that will shortly become clear I want you to note the excellently measured pace with which he shoots this section from the hip.

At this conference he also delivered a talk.

He begins by announcing that there is a shortage of time, and then sets off like a rocket. Allow me to quote myself from a recent blog article

Speaking too quickly to save time is essentially futile. Let us look at the mechanics of it. The actual words are not articulated significantly faster: the speed is in the closing of the gaps between words, in particular the natural pauses between phrases and sentences. I reckon everyone who has ever edited speech-audio has tried to save time by closing these gaps, and we’ve all done it only once because we’ve learnt the painful lesson. It doesn’t work! It’s a mug’s game: you slave for hours trimming these things, turn around and find that you’ve saved just a few lousy seconds.

Never speak too fast in an attempt to save time: take out a sentence or two instead. Otherwise your words and sentences can tumble over each other faster than the listener can absorb them.

To save time Watts should have removed something. That would have been a hellishly difficult thing to do because this stuff is so important; but the importance of the information is why he should have trimmed something out. He is addressing an expert audience, so they’ll follow it because they probably already know it; but most of the value of this talk is in educating the world via publishing the video on line. The speed of his talking will turn people away, and squander a valuable opportunity to educate more of the world.

Anthony Watts at the beginning of this posting received an award for communication. Quite right: his online contribution is matchless. In accepting the award he showed how well he can communicate with a live audience. And now he clearly shows how much his communication skill can be damaged by the apparently small mistake of having too much to say in too little time.

An important lesson for us all.