The book’s cover shows a picture of a stainless steel spoon. Is this because the book’s subtitle is He Who Sups with the Devil Should Have a Long Spoon? Or is it because he illustrates some of his points by describing the manufacture of a stainless steel spoon? The answer to both these questions is apparently yes.
It’s very nearly a bald opening and, as I sympathise with any speaker who finds it impossible to begin a speech without at least paying the audience the courtesy of thanking them for being there, I’ll forgive him. The bald opening has two essential purposes: drama and the suppression of nerves. To launch straight in without any preamble is strong and dramatic; and bald-openings are counter-intuitively good for nerves for the same reason as plunging into cold water is easier than creeping in slowly. Plimer is quite blunt enough not to need any added drama and he also gives little impression of needing help with nerves. Nerves will be there, but completely under control – or, to quote Laurence Olivier’s metaphor, the butterflies are made to fly in formation. Plimer is a very good speaker, laying out his arguments clearly, driving his message with authority, and shooting it all from the hip. Could I help to make him any better? Possibly, marginally, but why should he care?
It’s a clever opening inasmuch as he delivers a ferocious back-hander to the hypocrisy of the Green establishment, while simultaneously acknowledging with glee how much they hate him. And they do: you need to do only a little research to find oceans of bile being fire-hosed in his direction.
The speech, and the book it launches, seek systematically to debunk the entire climate-change creed.
Is he right? Is he wrong? I cannot say with the authority of a scientist, but all my experience, in those life skills I have, tells me he needs to be heard.
Given that Fascism, Socialism, Communism, all authoritarian “isms” thrive upon crises persuading the populace that they need saving and therefore need more of the State, and given that I detest authoritarianism in all its guises, I am instinctively wary when crises could be synthetic. And when the high-priesthood of any supposed crisis goes to huge lengths to silence dissent then I, passionate for free speech, am immediately suspicious. Contrariness to the climate “orthodoxy” is severely persecuted, and when dissent is persecuted consent is suspect.
That caused me to examine closely the oft-quoted “97% consensus”, and I found it to be the product of shameless data manipulation. The science community if anything seems to veer towards a consensus that AGW is negligible and certainly not dangerous, particularly among those like Ian Plimer who are retired and therefore do not need to toe any political line for their research funding, mortgage or pension. I actually don’t care about any consensus: I care only that the scientific conversation continues without political pressure in either direction because the environment matters, and if things are going wrong proper investigation needs to happen without political bias getting in the way. But back to Professor Plimer.
At 11:10 he begins an interesting section. I have long been deeply uneasy about wind turbines. They produce absurdly small and inefficient amounts of energy and could not exist without taxpayer contribution, so there are those in energy poverty who nevertheless subsidise the very rich turbine owners. Their output is so sporadic that they have to have fossil fuel backup. They kill birds and bats. I understand that these statements are not disputed, yet green and wildlife NGOs protest that this is a small price to pay for saving the planet. Professor Plimer nevertheless appears to have done the necessary calculations to show that a wind turbine emits more CO2 in being built and installed than it will save in its lifetime. I look forward to someone publishing detailed calculations to dispute Plimer’s assertion, failing which these wretched things look like an even bigger scam than I suspected.
At 18:05 he points out that his book has been denied publicity. It’s almost as if someone is determined to prove the truth of what Voltaire said…
It is dangerous to be right in matters where established authorities are wrong.
It took very few seconds for me to get excited about Bryce. Seldom does any speaker set out his stall as clearly as this. Seldom does any speaker present such a distinct contents page. Some might expect me to complain that he lacked a pretty opening, and I certainly discuss with trainees the desirability of pretty openings, but pretty openings are garnish. Given the choice between a restaurant serving mediocre food with pretty garnish and a restaurant serving more simple but fabulous food the answer is obvious. Bryce doesn’t fanny about with garnish but he leaves you in no doubt as to what you are supposed to hear.
And he shows his workings. If you are wondering about the significance of that you obviously missed the second paragraph in this posting.
Virtually all my trainees – being business people – are convinced that their work in general, and numbers in particular, are deadly boring to everyone else. Therefore I explore with them a range of ways to make data more interesting. One such is used extensively and to huge effect by Bryce. Try this for size –
In the last decade the increase in global energy demand has been roughly seven Saudi Arabias.
For quite a sustained period in this lecture The Saudi Arabia becomes his unit of energy production, and crystal clear imagery regarding his message is thereby created. A little later, when speaking not about production but consumption he adopts another unit – The Brazil. In global consumption since 1985 a Brazil has been added per year.
He uses paper, but almost entirely for statistics. Nearly all the time he is shooting from the hip, but when it seems to him important that he is seen to be quoting precise data he unashamedly consults his notes. I have absolutely no quarrel with that.
Nor do I quarrel with him when he says at 14:56, “I don’t use PowerPoint, it gives me a rash.” I don’t use it either, though not for dermatological reasons. I don’t disapprove of visuals – a picture can replace a thousand words – but I conduct 2-hour seminars without a single slide simply to demonstrate how seldom a picture is actually needed.
His vocal delivery has two small flaws. He pops his microphone very occasionally and his voice is placed incorrectly in his face. In this lecture he adjusts the mic when he begins, and needs to learn that if the mic is pointing at your mouth never point your mouth at the mic (and vice versa). He speaks with too much use of his throat. This makes his voice work harder than necessary, so he repeatedly needs to sip water. These are quibbles, but I deploy quibbles only when people are as good as this.
At one point, when discussing the current inadequacy of batteries, the subject of electric cars comes up. Here’s a choice quotation –
Electric cars are the next big thing – and they always will be
For his style of speaking Robert Bryce is about as good as they come.
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.
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.
For a couple of months I have been gestating for this newsletter, a critique on a speech made by Daniel Hannan MEP to a distinguished audience of mainly Germans and British.
Then a few weeks ago the EU parliament had a recess and Hannan went off on a tour of the Anglosphere. Very soon Twitter began buzzing with how he had wowed an American audience which was an interesting comparison with the previous example as it showed how – true to Cardinal 2 in The Face & Tripod – he varied his delivery to match his audience. I was just wondering whether to make a choice between them or conduct a comparison of the two, when twittering began afresh on a speech to an Australian audience. In no time the Twitterati were getting excited over another speech he had made in Canada, but I decided I had enough for this exercise.
1. In May 2011 a debate was held at the Royal Geographical Society. The Motion was, “Germany no longer needs Europe – the dream is over”. Hannan spoke for the motion. His opening is brilliant: he captures the imagination immediately, making a strong argument in the process. Furthermore he attributes the argument to others, thereby doing several clever things simultaneously. He burnishes his image by modestly stepping aside from taking the credit; he inflates the credibility of the argument by citing distinguished authors by name (remember the proper noun directive in F&T); and he heads off any criticism of non-originality.
Which of my past trainees remembers my talking of the ‘muffed-word-test’? Essentially this is not about whether you muff words, which everyone does occasionally, but about how well you correct it with good humoured smoothness. Now watch Hannan at 2:50.
Dig out your copy of F&T and re-read the small section entitled ‘Negotiate’. Then watch this speech from 4:12. Hannan hands out a succession of bouquets to buy enough credit for the message he reaches at around 5:00.
At 5:25 he addresses what could be a knotty issue and dramatizes it well enough to elicit a ripple of laughter and applause; but because it is a knotty issue he speaks on through the applause in order not only to minimise it but be seen to minimise it lest anyone in the audience should take offence. This man is very smart and skilled. Now let’s look at the second speech listed.
2. In February 2012 Hannan was one of the speakers at CPAC (Centre for American Politics & Citizenship). In his opening, he uttered words he would never have used in the previous speech, “I gotta tell you…” This is a classic example of tailoring to your audience, as I direct in Cardinal 2 of F&T. Did you, like me, hold your metaphorical breath lest he took it too far – what one might call ‘the oldest swinger in town’ syndrome? In the event he stopped comfortably short of that. You can hear the atmosphere buzzing in the hall, and he responds to it with just enough controlled ‘mirroring’.
At 4:00 he gives us some throw-away humour concerning the phallic shape of the Washington Monument; but, true to the throw-away principle (see my chapter on humour), he does not beg a laugh but continues as if he’d never said it – and gets a huge laugh. He also delivers the humour in a way that is oblique enough for anyone who might have been offended not to understand it. Very sound.
At 16:30 he gives us an anaphora repetition – less prosperous, less independent, less democratic, less free. Does he harpoon a potential triad by having four elements in his repetition or are the first three the triad which are then emphasised and locked into place, as it were, through the addition of the fourth? I think the latter, because he stops enumerating with his fingers after the third. At any rate, it all works beautifully because it receives a very respectable six seconds of applause, which could easily be longer except he curtails it by starting speaking again.
That’s the second time in this critique that I have found him choosing to kill his own applause. Consider: if by not begging laughter or applause you enhance your standing with your audience, how much more do you do it by actively suppressing them? In the blink of an eye he conveys an eagerness to get on with imparting the message and the security of an ego that does not need reassurance from applause. Myriad positive messages are being transmitted.
When a speaker is as good as this I cannot help but be super-picky. If you’ve read F&T you know how keen I am on the use of parallels. For some years I edited a rather scholarly wine journal. At 26:38 Hannan goes into a viticulture anecdote-and-metaphor that is true but technically incorrect in a tiny detail which though small is crucial enough fatally to undermine the parallel. What a party-pooping stinker I am to have told you that! Let’s move to the third…
3. Later in February 2012 Hannan spoke at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne. At the start I suspect you might be as bemused as I at how sombre he appears to be with an Australian audience. Also we do not seem to have joined it quite at the beginning. This bothered me so much that I dug some more; and I found another source of the speech here. It turns out that the first version begins just over 12 minutes into the whole thing. Perhaps more significantly that version claims to have been posted by Hannan himself, so it was he who apparently edited out those first 12 minutes before posting – in which case he needs to consider hard the difficulties and dangers of that sort of self-editing.
(There is on YouTube a severely cut-down version of a reading I did in 2010 of the whole of the Gospel of St Mark. I did the cutting-down. Several people who were there have observed that I cut out and I kept the wrong bits – and I fear they may be right.) Hannan’s exuberant seduction of his audience in the first few minutes of the uncut version of this speech is lovely to witness, and a rare public insight into his fun-time personality. But he excised all that in favour of later serious arguments which we can see him making a hundred times elsewhere. I’d be the last to quarrel with his enthusiasm for his message – that’s Cardinal 1, a cornerstone of my training – but in this instance it may have caused an error.
This man is a first class speaker. For one thing he is beautifully economical; and I can identify at least two reasons for this. There are strict time limits on speeches in the EU parliament, so he has trained himself to get on, package his point clearly, and get off. You can see examples all over YouTube.
And he has learnt that the way to use fewer words is to use only the right ones. Those who have attended master classes with me will verify that I advocate the reading aloud of poetry as a way to improve many skills in this medium. Beautiful and economic turns of phrase work themselves into your mind by osmosis and become habit-forming. Not only do you find yourself getting better at finding the right words to convey the precise nuance you seek, but they trip off the tongue with less and less effort. Is there the remotest doubt but that Daniel Hannan is very well read? I began my working life as an actor an aeon ago, and was playing Shakespeare with the National Theatre before he was born; also I have directed half-a dozen Shakespeare productions. But he can out-quote me on Shakespeare without breaking sweat. In the complete version of that speech in Australia he effortlessly quotes 25 seconds of St Matthew’s gospel to make a point. At the 5:10 mark he makes merely the slightest reference to an incident in Jason’s Golden Fleece caper before ‘throwing it away’. All the above speeches are littered with what Logan Pearsall Smith meant when he wrote –
There is one thing that matters, to set a chime of words tinkling in the minds of a few fastidious people.
But such a chime of words can jangle unless delivered with the confidence of familiarity. Hannan is manifestly familiar with everything he quotes – and that’s the key. On one recent occasion in the EU parliament he made a speech which consisted only of a single verse from a poem by G K Chesterton.
So, in conclusion, is he flawless? No, but then no one is. Every so often he allows words to die at the ends of phrases. It is not laziness: his enunciation is exemplary and he uses rising cadences well. It is done deliberately for effect, and it can be very effective, but care has to be taken not to sacrifice intelligibility for that effect. At 7:12 in the second of our speeches there are three examples in quick succession – the words “equivalent”, “independence” and “freedoms”. I’m being picky: President Obama is much worse.
I described Hannan in the title as being smooth as a kitten’s wrist. It’s worth noting that smooth though the feline wrist may be it is in close proximity to some very sharp claws. Hannan has a well-deserved reputation for maintaining strict courtesy to friend and foe alike, yet the speech that drew him to the attention of millions was the one wherein he eviscerated Gordon Brown in the EU Parliament.
There is something else that is interesting about that. The examples of speeches we have examined here I have listed by number, by venue, by date but not by what was said. None of them has a FACE! You try doing a YouTube search with the words “Devalued Prime Minister” and that Gordon Brown speech will fly onto your screen. He gave that speech a FACE – apparently by accident. If he had read F&T, particularly Cardinal 3, perhaps it would have been deliberate; and perhaps he would have made it a habit.