Tim Allen to infinity

Tim Allen to infinity

In May 2021 Hillsdale College staged its one hundred and sixty-ninth Commencement Address, and the speaker was actor/comedian Tim Allen.

I’ve often thought that selecting a speaker for commencement addresses is an interesting and potentially perilous undertaking, because in addition to an absorbing speaker you have to find some relevance beyond mere celebrity. I have now discovered that Tim Allen, in addition to the huge menu of work in his resumé, in addition to being the voice of Buzz Lightyear, is the voice of Michigan in the state advertisements entitled Pure Michigan. Hillsdale College is in Michigan.

Nevertheless I suspect there’s a lot more for us to learn.

The speaker for an event of this profile should have a very senior introducer, and Larry Arnn the college President does the honours. We’ve seen him introducing before. He takes no prisoners. Does Tim Allen have any idea what’s coming?

Nope! He is overcome! “How in hell am I supposed to follow that?”

He’s neatly identified my problem here. How in hell am I supposed to critique this?

The fact is that being a comedian – a proper one with a Vegas routine that his agent warned him not to use here – he is comfortable with narrating a stream of consciousness. At least it comes across as a stream of consciousness whereas it conforms to an orthodox structure – chronology. He’s telling his life story with the emphasis, because he’s talking to a college, on his stressful relationship with his teachers. Anyone could follow that structure, but what makes this special is that he colours it all with his over-the-top personality. He’s a comedian – a proper one – and this is lovely stuff.

He’s even funny about how he went astray and wound up in a penitentiary for two years.

To the wider world he’s undoubtedly more famous for his acting because movies get more butts on seats than even the vast auditoriums in Vegas, but he’s a little dismissive of that part of his work. It pays the bills, it pays a hell of a lot of bills, but it doesn’t have audience contact. This is an artist who relishes audience contact and it shows.

The better they are the pickier I get. The least effective sections in this talk are when he moves into worthy areas. He probably thinks he should, and and he’s probably right, but it feels to me as if he’s strayed out of his back yard. But that’s very picky indeed.

I loved this.

William Happer and a tiny sentence

Continuing with my mining the rich seam of live speeches under the banner of Hillsdale College, I find a speech delivered at the National Leadership Symposium in Phoenix, Arizona, on 19 February 2021. The speaker is Dr William Happer, and his talk is entitled How to Think about Climate Change, though the video has been given a different title.

The introduction is by Timothy Caspar. We’ve heard many introductions from him, and as usual he tends to read most of it, because he is listing the academic and professional credentials of the speaker, and the list is huge and impressive. The brightest spots, from the speaking perspective however, are those when Caspar lifts his face and utters a personal aside. I am so hoping for a speech from him one day.

Happer begins at 2:10, and hands over to Questions at 45:47.

When I began blogging, speeches for and against “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” were all the rage, and I quickly noticed one crucial detail that distinguished them. Alarmists limited themselves to frightening assertions (the earth is going to fry), while sceptics gave you data (no it isn’t, and here’s why). When the earth stubbornly failed to fry, alarmists changed from “Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming” which can be measured and therefore falsified to “Climate Change” which has always happened, always will, and therefore can’t.

Alarmists slyly claimed to represent The Science, while those who had closely studied their campaign and how it contradicted source data, knew it really represented The Politics. It was politics that enabled them to gain the argument, even though it was all clearly hogwash. Today climate alarmism has spawned industries worth trillions of dollars so the smart money is forced to join the fiction. Buoyed up by this they have again changed the name, this time to “Climate Emergency”. Governments around the world (for reasons best known to themselves or their organ-grinders) fall over each other to announce ever more bonkers policies to tackle an imaginary problem while endangering real economies, cultures and environments. When the whole pack of cards collapses, as being built on lies it eventually will, I shall probably be long gone.

Back to this speech which throws up something significant about public speaking.

In three quarters of an hour there is a 21-second passage, between 3:50 and 4:11, that says all that needs to be heard. That small window includes a tiny but golden sentence –

There is no climate emergency.

Virtually all the rest of the time is devoted to streams of data which, though ably supporting that sentence are actually rather tedious. Had I been advising him I’d have pruned the whole thing down to less than ten minutes. Scientists in the audience already know those data, lay people scarcely care.

I repeatedly tell my trainees to keep their brushstrokes broad. It is just too easy to get bogged down in detail. There’s a quotation attributed to J.S.Bach, “It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table”. When you listen to his music, and its sublime economy, you really understand that quotation. One of the most important, and elusive, public speaking skills is judging how little detail you actually need. As I say in a speaking tip on my website,

Dumb is making sure your presentation dots every i and crosses every t:  Smart is making sure your audience understands and remembers the message.