Raheem Kassam looks left

In August 2019 The America Conservative Union and Liberty Works brought CPAC to Australia. One of the speakers was Raheem Kassam.

Nice introduction, whoever that is. Quirky, funny, and above all short.

The introduction tells us that Kassam is likely to be jet lagged. Strangely enough I’ve found that jet-lag, far from ruining speeches, is often a beneficial source of peripheral stress. Perhaps it triggers an extra helping of adrenaline. The key to combatting it is to have had plenty of sleep. At any rate Kassam seems to be on the ball.

He conspicuously comes out from behind the lectern, wearing a clip-on lapel mic. Does this mean that he’s going to shoot this all from the hip? Not quite.

I become puzzled by how much of the time he is looking to the left (stage left: his left). I wonder whether the auditorium is asymmetric. That would be weird, but not entirely unknown. The hypothesis deflates when I see the lectern standing square to the stage. No there has to be another reason, and I soon spot it. He is being prompted by notes on the lectern – probably just bullet-points, judging by how seldom he looks, though he also conspicuously and correctly reads a quotation – so whether looking at the notes or not he is more comfortable with the lectern in view. That’s irrational: lecterns don’t walk away, but it is a less obvious symptom of let-lag.

There are two solutions. Discipline yourself always to monitor the whole arc of audience and/or learn to do without even bullet-points. From the quality of his speaking I suspect that he’s on top of both. He came out from behind the lectern, because he’s happier not having that between him and his audience. But then he decided to play safe with bullet points because these are special circumstances – jet-lag again.

Yes, jet-lag may not impair the speech, but it can introduce tiny tendencies that get spotted by sad specialists like me. Enough of all that; what about the speech itself?

It’s very good indeed, and delivered well. Worth watching. There’s stuff in there that is relevant to things going on right now.

Bryan Wolfmueller and the world-famous Bagophanes

I was contacted by Lee Proudlove, a vicar in Nottingham and a reader of this blog. Like most of his colleagues he has been transmitting during the lockdown live-streamed services and sermons, scrambling as best he can up the steep learning curve. For ideas he searched the internet and came across Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller. He sent me a link to a video Wolfmueller did for Palm Sunday.

Before I even clicked to start, I registered two things –

  1. Peripheral stress. I’ve addressed peripheral stress before on this blog. If you are not too comfortable or secure, or if there are other stimuli snatching at your concentration, it can do wonders for control of normal nerves by masking their significance. In this case Wolfmueller appears to have decided to drive while preaching.
  2. A name that was new to me, claiming to be world-famous? Bagophanes? What a hook to grab passers-by! Anyone with any curiosity is going to stop for a closer look. Why do you think I used it in the title of this posting?

Without yet having heard a word from him I suspected that Wolfmueller was a smart man. Therefore I pressed “start”.

He opens with a self-deprecating account of how he had recently accidentally recorded a sermon without audio. Self deprecation is good so long as it isn’t making pre-emptive excuses in advance of a lousy performance. My impression was that it wouldn’t be that. Then, settling down to watch the rest, I was struck by a key question. How many ‘takes’ was this recording going to be able to accommodate? Did he have time to go on driving around merely to feed a gimmick?

The more I watched, the more everything fell into place. He has found a way of doing these videos that really works for his personality and is likely to resonate well with most viewers. Explaining something while driving, or listening to someone doing it, is such a familiar experience for anyone interested that the implied environment is as comfortable as can be. Occasional hesitations and/or “erm”, while checking for traffic, are so predictable as not to be noticed. Far from trying for the ‘perfect take’ (which if he even achieved it would be relatively boring) his target is simply to use a single take, warts and all, to put across a story and a message in an easily digested and memorable way. His being personable enables him to do that, while making any flaws in his delivery part of its charm.

Ah yes, memorable! I tell my trainees that the easiest way to make a speech memorable is to give it what I call a Face, a single phrase or sentence by which it will be remembered. Wolfmueller has gone for a single word – Bagophanes! I believe I shall never forget it, if only by remembering his slightly naughty alternative pronunciation. (Actually, on my side of the pond his alternative pronunciation is marginally naughtier – two countries divided by a common language.) I shall not impede your enjoyment by explaining Bagophanes. Suffice it that he has significance to the Palm Sunday story.

Martin Farquhar Tupper (1810-1889) said, “Well-timed silence hath more eloquence than speech”, and many others have made similar observations, but repeatedly pausing for upwards of ten seconds is brave to the frontiers of foolhardiness. Wolfmueller does that here. I doubt he would in a pulpit, but it works now because though he is silent and still, the surrounding image of scenery and traffic is far from still. Therefore we instinctively accept that he is pausing to allow the world to pass while he reflects upon a carpenter’s son riding a donkey, surrounded by people crying “Hosannah”.

I was right: he’s a smart cookie, and a fine communicator. My thanks to Lee Proudlove for bringing him to my attention, and also for pointing out that book sitting in the middle of the car’s backseat, held there by its own seatbelt. Bryan Wolfmueller is a Lutheran pastor and that book is a biography of Martin Luther – his ever-present backseat driver.

Anika Penn nails it!

Since I began this blog in November 2012 it has presented me with rewards that went way beyond the obvious. It spurred me into exploring ways technology could enable me to work with people at a distance, and as a result my experience has been enriched by good friends in other parts of the world. One of the principal agents in this is Duncan Goldie-Scot, a tireless entrepreneur who is helping to open up the developing world by founding, backing, nurturing and incubating micro-businesses . And micro-businesses don’t stay micro.

In February of this year Duncan emailed me an introduction to Anika Penn, a bright young New Yorker with a new company that he was backing. She was going to need to pitch to investors, and could use my help.

Anika and I had three one-hour Skype sessions over the next couple of weeks, after which there was a pause while she travelled to Kenya where her business was being piloted. I expected us to speak again on her return, putting finishing touches to her pitch with anecdotal material from her Kenya trip. I reckoned without Anika’s flair and determination. From Kenya I received an email with a link to this.

I was bowled over, as was Duncan who had also received that email. She told us only that she had filmed it on the roof of a community centre in Kibera.

I habitually give to people, planning to do something on camera, a strange piece of maverick, counter-intuitive advice. Don’t be too comfortable. An element of peripheral stress can distract your mind into forgetting to introduce some of those inhibitions that get in your way. I hadn’t told this to Anika because it hadn’t come up: I thought we were preparing a pitch to a live audience. Anika had just decided to run with the ball her own way; and it looked to me as if the blustering wind had provided some of that peripheral stress. I didn’t know the half of it.

When she was back in New York we arranged another Skype chat. I was eager to find out all about this.

As I said earlier, this job has its rewards.