US Defense Secretary cheats brilliantly

Usually when I’ve been working with someone on their public speaking there’s a sentence I trot out at or near the end of the session. “It’s just xxxxxx talking.” [Insert your own adjective.] The sentiment behind what I’m saying is that we can wrestle with analyses and techniques till hell freezes over but in the end you are doing nothing more sophisticated than talking. Get a handle on that point, dismiss the mystique, and your mindset is going to be in a good place.

So when a couple of days ago I happened upon this tiny clip of film of the United States Secretary of Defense, recorded apparently by a phone while delivering an impromptu speech, I was delighted.

The best advice that I ever give concerning the art of impromptu speaking is, CHEAT. Always have something up your sleeve. Let’s see what James Mattis has up his sleeve.

There’s no grand opening, just a jocular exchange of banter concerning how they’ve ambushed him. We need to bear in mind the extraordinary bond that prevails between comrades in arms; and Mattis was a Marine Corps General.

Opening banter over, Mattis just xxxxxx talks. Look at his body language: hands in pockets, casual stance, head swinging backwards and forwards so that everyone sees his face (and we periodically almost lose his voice). He’s just xxxxxx talking. No ceremony.

My book on business speaking has a strange title, at least it’s strange to anyone who hasn’t worked with me on their speaking. It contains the word Face, which is the name I give to that phrase or sentence that you give your speech to identify it and make it memorable. There are no prizes on offer for spotting the Face of this tiny little casual talk.

We got two powers; the power of inspiration, and the power of intimidation.

I would take a lot of persuading that he hasn’t said that before. It doesn’t matter: it’s damn good and it instantly identifies this little talk for ever. He’s simultaneously obeyed two prime pieces of speaking advice: give your speech a Face, and in case you suddenly have to deliver something impromptu always have some gold up your sleeve.

And his peroration? “Listen to your NCOs, now. So long.”

Less than three minutes and a brilliant piece of speaking. He needs saluting.

President Trump: polished

On 6 July in Warsaw President Trump delivered a speech to the people of Poland.

It was greeted in general by the press in the USA and UK with a warmth that was rather luke. That’s not a surprise: Trump Derangement Syndrome has become so modish among the chattering classes that it even has a name – that one. A few minutes research through the English language sections of the Polish press yields a very different story: they lurved the speech.

Why don’t we have a look for ourselves?

We join it in the middle of joyful chants of “Donald Trump”, before a wreath-laying ceremony which itself is followed by a brief speech by the First Lady. I have seen this described as ‘predictable schmooze’, though I reckon its actual existence is unpredictable. I have failed to find in my memory another FLOTUS speech under these circumstances. It is competently delivered, contains a little meat in the schmooze, and I doff my hat to her for it.

After more chanting of his name, POTUS begins at the six-minute mark.

The sound on this video suffers from sporadic bursts of very loud amongst long periods of rather quiet. I believe that this is caused by Automatic Volume Control. AVC can be a blunt instrument that worries during big pauses and winds itself up to look for sound in the silence. Added to that, I think it has been programmed also to adjust the volume on the ‘atmos’ microphones that are supposed to feed us the audience response. Audience applauds, POTUS pauses, microphone system has panic attack trying to catch up with what is happening, POTUS starts speaking again, and blasts our eardrums. I comfort myself that though we are getting our feed of his voice from the same microphone as the audience they are unlikely to share our volume craziness.

He is using AutoCue, or equivalent. Even before we spot the perspex screens, we know that this speech is one of those which absolutely has to be scripted. Very soon after he starts we also get glaring confirmation at 7:35 when he has to correct himself. Having said “sincere” he tells us that he means “sincerely”. No one says the former when they mean the latter, so he has to be reading. If reading and the script scrolls up too slowly and the last syllable is on the next line the mistake is easy. I reckon the error comes from the AutoCue operator, which I mention only because that is very rare indeed. They tend to be brilliantly skilled. The smoothness with which Trump makes the correction is also skilled. He is only a minute-and-a-half in, and already in complete control.

The early part of the speech is more diplomatic schmoozing – how could it be otherwise? There’s a warm moment when he names Lech Walesa who is in the audience and stands for a bow. But as the speech progresses the subject matter gets more purposeful. What I particularly like is the judicious mixture of that which is spoken for the benefit of the onlooking world and that which is aimed at his immediate audience.

One device he uses to achieve this is by expressing a link between the two countries as co-representatives of the free West. Poland is one of the European countries that has paid its agreed share of the cost of NATO, and now is resisting huge pressure from Brussels to take a proportion of the gigantic influx of migrants – or, to put it another way, bail Merkel out of her madness. Poland is accustomed to huge pressure, and Trump goes out of his way to itemise some of the many ways it has been tossed on stormy seas over the centuries only for its spirit to triumph.

The speech gets very powerful at 18:50, talking of Soviet occupation, leading to his recounting the holding of a Mass in Victory Square on 2 June 1979 by Pope John Paul II. He culminates in a spellbinding moment where he speaks of the million in that square who “did not ask for wealth, did not ask for privilege”. They wanted God.

He goes on to highlight the inroads of those who would destroy what western civilisation has achieved. This is another wonderfully powerful section, not least because of his referring not only to the threat of the enemy from without but also the enemy within. This section alone would make this speech a triumph, because – script or no – he gets firmly in the driving seat of his message and presses the throttle.

For his peroration he swings at 36:00 into an account of Jerusalem Avenue in the Warsaw Uprising. I doubt there’s a soul in that audience that does not know the story, but won’t mind hearing it again – particularly while the whole world is listening. The final auxesis comes out through more chanting of “Donald Trump” and is greeted by a standing ovation which is very definitely not a hollow formality.

That’s a bloody good speech!

Donald Trump is not everyone’s cup of tea. Though he may have flaws, he loves his country, what it has achieved and what it stands for; and that’s unfashionable among the self-regarding, self-appointed elite in the USA. But what they particularly can’t forgive is that so do the electorate that made him President.

 

Tarek Fatah: as good as I’ve seen.

At the 3rd India Ideas Conclave, held in November 2016 in Goa, Tarek Fatah was called to speak.

I deliberately went looking for this. I had discovered Fatah’s existence as a result of a reTweet. What I found interested me, and I became one of his Twitter followers. Shortly afterwards I went seeking a speech and found two.

This was the most recent.

We immediately discover that he is surprised to be called, so he is mainly shooting from the hip. As an author and journalist he will have opinions a-plenty, but we have found often enough on this blog that those who live by the pen are by no means necessarily able to communicate well by the tongue. Nevertheless it takes only a few seconds to discover that here is a very skilled speaker.

Just listen to his tone colours. He plays his audience wonderfully.

He needs to because although he switches back and forth between languages, and has a habit of switching out of English for the punchline of each point made, I think it is clear that he is confronting group-think. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, he is giving this audience an industrial strength bollocking. And what impresses and amazes me is that they let him.

The audience listens in respectful silence and even applauds sometimes. This is a tribute to the persuasiveness of his speaking, but it is also a tribute to his audience. Although the bilingualism of this speech might be confusing me I think – and if I’m wrong no doubt someone will tell me – that he is scolding India for being too tolerant of Islamisation within their Hindu country.

Can you imagine the reception this would receive in the west (and it’s worth bearing in mind that Fatah lives and works in Canada)? For much less than this we see ferocious street riots, with shop windows broken and cars set alight. The cancer of political correctness has metastasised within western society to such an extent that we have ‘hate speech’ laws whose counter-productiveness is downright imbecilic. This sort of polite and respectful exchange of ideas and opinion is today just a memory in the west. I am reminded of that famous quotation from Mahatma Gandhi when asked what he thought of western civilisation.

I think it would be a good idea.

So do I, and we can apparently look to India to set us a noble example.

Even if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick completely, I am still in awe of this speech. We’ve had a Gandhi quote, let’s have a Fatah one –

There is no democracy without individual liberty (4:20)

Just after 13:30 he moves into his peroration. He  has given us loud power, quiet intensity, and wonderful flavour-enhancing pauses. Now he goes super-quiet for a while, drawing his audience to a focal point just a few inches from his nose. And then a huge auxesis arrives in the last couple of seconds. My word, but he’s good.

I mentioned that I found two speeches of his. This is where you will find the other. That was delivered in Canada in 2011, and he had come from cancer treatment in hospital to deliver it. Again it is brilliant, though his being unwell he doesn’t use quite the same breadth of palette. He is warning of Islamism as distinct from Islam. He is a Muslim.

I have become a fan of his, and delight in the discovery that we were born in the same city – though my being three years older we were born in different countries. I’ll leave you to work that out.

Theresa May be a Good thing.

On 17 January Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered a speech which had been eagerly awaited by many. Since the people of the United Kingdom, on 23 June 2016, had decisively voted to leave the European Union the country had seemed to be stuck in limbo. For the benefit of non-British readers, allow me to outline the background.

Mrs May’s predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, had called the Referendum. He had announced, in a highly publicised speech in January 2013, that he intended to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, and then put this expected new dispensation to the British people in a referendum during 2017. In 2015 there was a General Election in which this promise of an EU Referendum was a central plank of his campaign. He won the election, launched this renegotiation in a fanfare of trumpets while many of us marvelled at how radically he had watered down his promised demands, went off to Brussels, and came back with essentially nothing. The little he claimed to have been agreed was not remotely binding, and even that was disputed by many European politicians. He rushed into the referendum, rather earlier than originally promised, on a platform that we should vote to remain ruled by this ‘reformed’ regime. Nevertheless he undertook that in the event of the British people voting to leave he would immediately trigger Article 50, the EU exit door, and lead the exit negotiations.

The referendum took place, the people voted for Brexit, and Cameron immediately vanished. He simply welshed on all assurances and left everything for someone else to sort out. That someone turned out to be Mrs Theresa May. Her principal problem was that incredibly the British governing establishment had put no contingency plans in place against the vote going for Brexit, so she had to start from scratch. Thus for six months the country was in limbo, with several establishment figures openly attempting to thwart the expressed democratic will of the British people who in turn were supported by little more than periodic assurances from Mrs May and her cabinet that Article 50 would be triggered before the end of March.

This speech had been loudly heralded as a key piece of progress report.

An opening pause. Immediately I am encouraged.

This video, originally a live, streamed feed, occasionally shows live tweets commenting in a separate window. At 11:07 there is one which expresses the hope that the speech gets more interesting. I can understand this up to a point, because in laying out her stall Mrs May has needed to cover very many bases. I however am in possession of information not then available to that tweeter: there is half-an-hour still to come.

Do you have more than 40 minutes to listen to the whole thing? If not I can recommend two short excerpts that summarise effectively. This is so much better than my cherry-picking quotes. It’s safer too, because of being less susceptible to my confirmation bias.

Between 31:08 and 31:43 she very clearly summarises all that she has thus far covered. If you want to stick with it to 32:58 you will hear how she intends to keep her cards face-down,

 “because this is not a game, or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake.”

You may find that this satisfies your curiosity or that it excites your appetite to hear more. Either way, I whole-heartedly commend all this speech.

The other excerpt is her ending. I recommend that you pick it up at 38:55 with the words, “I don’t believe…” I have heard worse perorations, and didn’t care that it had no auxesis, because the content and the occasion did not call for it.

Only a few days later she delivered another big speech, this time in the USA. In it she was busy massaging the ego of a huge ally, but still I felt that she meant what she said. It is this quality that I like. Even if I don’t always agree with everything she says and stands for, I don’t feel embarrassed that she is representing my country. That speech did call for an auxesis to herald the peroration, and it got it. If you don’t listen to the whole thing you can pick up the peroration at 33:00.

Like or loathe her political position, she does not beat around its bush. More and more I sense that this woman is a WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get – and I find that hugely refreshing after the dismal succession of duplicitous twits that have been representing us for a quarter of a century. (The word ‘twits’ was a slight edit from the first word there.)

She makes me feel strangely optimistic.

Douglas Murray knows his stuff

On 23 January 2014 the Oxford Union conducted a debate with the motion This House Believes postwar Britain has seen too much immigration. 

We have previously examined a speech from Baron Singh in opposition to the motion, and today we look at a speech from Douglas Murray in proposition.

Douglas Murray is not new to this blog.  I have previously looked at his speaking herehere, and here.

When Murray speaks everything seems to be spontaneous. This could be either because he just wings all his speeches, or because he is extremely good at artifice, or because he has learnt how to prepare and structure a speech so that he always knows where he is and where he is going and trusts himself to say spontaneously what needs to be said at any point. I have no doubt that it is that last. It is what I teach my trainees (of which Murray is not one). It is not particularly difficult, but it does require you to know your subject. Murray knows his subject.

He opens with an apology for not being in a dinner jacket, and harvests an excellent laugh in the process.

When moving on to the matter at issue, he puts his hands over his face and rubs his forehead at a particularly critical moment. It beautifully underpins the words that he is speaking concerning the seriousness of the subject. Is that spontaneous or choreographed? I don’t know, but it is every bit as effective at conveying un-self-conscious sincerity as Kate Hoey’s adjustment of her clothing in my previous blog posting.

He bombards his audience with telling statistics, fierce arguments and heartfelt views. His papers on the dispatch box are there for reference not for prompting, and he mines the references skilfully – even throwing back at his opponents data from surveys they had quoted. Murray is very good at this.

But it is his peroration that really puts the icing on this cake.  From 08:33 he kicks down to go into his big finish.  I say ‘big’ but the term is relative: Murray likes to play with intensity rather than volume. If you watch any of it, watch that last section. The applause from the audience is instant, sincere and well-deserved.

Thatcher’s last speech – The Mummy Returns

On 22 May 2001, at a general election rally in Plymouth, Baroness Thatcher came out of retirement long enough to take the stage for what was probably her last big speech. My speaking students will understand when I say that the speech had a Face – “The Mummy Returns“.

There is a transcript of the speech downloadable here.

Say “The two Ronnies” to most British people and they will immediately think of Messrs Barker and Corbett, whose comedy partnership is a TV legend; but to those of us involved with British Theatre in the mid-sixties there was an earlier pair of Ronnies. Ron Grainer and Ronald Millar collaborated on two West End musicals, Robert & Elizabeth, which opened in 1964 ran for nearly a thousand performances and has been revived several times since, and On the Level which opened in 1966 and died shortly afterwards. I briefly assisted Ronnie Grainer during that time: a sort of unpaid internship, sharpening pencils and making tea.

What has that riveting nugget to do with this speech?  Only that Ronnie Millar went on to become Thatcher’s speechwriter, for which he was awarded a knighthood. It was he who was credited with “The Lady’s Not for Turning”. He didn’t write this speech, he died in 1998, though I think he would have approved.

Thatcher lived in an era when formal oratory was still the norm and today’s style of conversational sincerity had yet to take hold. Everyone used to read their speeches from scripts, and delivery was relatively stiff. What is remarkable about this bit of speaking is how modern it sounds. Though she is reading it, she imbues it with much of the conversational sincerity that today we expect. Her speaking skill was ahead of its time.

I have a sneaking suspicion that she might have written this herself. Her managerial style was hands-on, so she would always have been closely involved with the preparation of her speeches; and when this came to be prepared she had time on her hands.

I’d like to think that she authored the description of New Labour at 4:37 – “rootless, empty, and artificial”. What a withering dismissal, and all in a little triad! (The trouble is that it neatly describes most of the posturing pygmies that people all parliamentary parties these days.) And what about this alliterative triad a minute later – “the bitter, brawling bully”?

There are several stumbles and losses-of-place, but this is a tendency when people read speeches – particularly if they are conscientious enough to raise their eyes regularly to their audience. That is why I liberate all my trainees from the tyranny of paper. If your memory contains a structure that is strong, simple  and clear enough you don’t lose your place and you can shoot your speech from the hip maintaining eye-contact with the audience all the time.

She is enough of a pro to massage the egos of her audience, not just for being Conservatives but for living in Plymouth. At 10:29 she begins her peroration with an extended anaphora on the word ‘Plymouth’.

She was very good at this; and it is a lesson for us, when we embrace new fashions for things like Public Speaking, to grab the best of the new but without rolling up behind us the carpet of the old.

Daniel Hannan eviscerates socialism at Oxford

As in my previous posting I said I would, I return immediately to Daniel Hannan for the second of a pair of speeches that he delivered in 2013. This was in November in a debate at the Oxford Union in support of the motion, This House Believes Socialism Will Not Work.

When delivering the speech at Runnymede for my previous posting he was among like-minded friends, probably exclusively so. This time, if not in the lions’ den, he certainly was going to have to work hard to sway them to his point of view.

A brave opening! He points out that Hitler called himself a socialist, then immediately pre-empts Godwin’s Law accusations by himself citing Godwin. He could have chosen to remind the audience that Oswald Mosley was a Labour Minister, but the Hitler example was undoubtedly the stronger. He describes the opening as ‘high-stake’ and so it is.

Just as with the Runnymede speech, the material that he shoots from the hip is flawlessly constructed to carry his narrative, illustrate and exemplify his points, pour in a wealth of supporting data; and it ends in a blood-quickening peroration that concludes with words from Milton. We expect no less of Hannan.

I shall not dwell on the delivery flaw I highlighted in the other speech, but even with the added energy that he is using to drive today’s message you will spot that the flaw is still there (at 4:05 that word is “commissars”). This proves that it is caused not by lack of application but by slightly misapplied application.

Apart from my merely enjoying his speaking, therefore, what is my reason for presenting him twice in two postings? There occur in this speech examples of an important lesson for any speaker, particularly one speaking in a hostile environment. Hannan is interrupted a few times.

There is one golden rule when dealing with any member of the audience who raises his head above the parapet and speaks. Maintain courtesy at all costs. You may have read, heard, or witnessed examples of comedians who have destroyed hecklers with ruthless put-downs and found the prospect of imitating them hugely exciting; but you are not a comedian and (more importantly) even if you are, this is not a comedian’s audience.

Heckling is not very common nowadays; but the courtesy rule applies just as much to your dealings with the idiot who tries to use your Q&A as his soap-box. Audiences are not stupid, and will quickly cotton-on to someone being a pillock. They will be wholly on your side right up to the moment that you tell that pillock he’s a pillock; and then they will immediately change sides. Even if they have started yelling at him to sit down, or slow-hand-clapping him, do not let your courtesy slip or you will lose your audience. By all means remind him of the importance of sticking to the matter in hand, or any other such remonstration, but do so courteously. Let others take whatever steps are required ultimately to shut him up.

By the way Hannan’s interrupters do not have microphones, so – though one of them goes on a bit – I cannot tell if they are being pillocks; but I can tell that he maintains his courtesy.

And there is another little kindred lesson to be learned from this speech, and one that has nothing to do with the speaker. If you are in a debate, or panel discussion, or any such adversarial environment, you maintain apparent strength not only through courtesy but through remaining impassive. Discipline yourself to keep your powder dry: exhibit nothing other than rapt attention while others are speaking. If you doubt me, watch closely the next TV debate you see. If anyone while others are speaking is shaking their head, looking incredulous or indulging in any form of face-pulling, you will see they are weakening themselves. Robert Griffiths, one of the opposition speakers, does himself no favours with that mocking laughter at 6:20.

I may return to this debate in due course to look at other speakers; but for a while this blog will remain a Hannan-free zone. Unless, of course, another important lesson emerges…