Andrew Doyle and Woke

At The National Liberal Club in London, on 13 October 2019, Sovereign Nations held a conference entitled Speaking Truth to Social Justice. One speaker was Andrew Doyle.

I was keen to watch this speech because few have done more to satirise the wearisome Woke movement than Doyle (except, arguably, the Woke movement itself). Among other things, and I’m going out of my way to highlight this because in his speech he doesn’t do so, he co-founded and runs Comedy Unleashed, where comedians may perform without having to conform to the bigotry of Woke restrictions. This means free speech and, in a civilised society, should be the norm. The Woke establishment (and be sure that the Establishment is Woke) hates it and labels it ‘Far Right’, which is Wokese for the holding of non-Woke opinions.

I cannot believe that he’s reading a script! What has possessed him? He’s hacking great chunks out of the impact of what he is saying by regurgitating something he wrote earlier. It’s not all the time: sometimes his eyes mercifully lift from that wretched paper and he addresses the audience in spontaneous terms. Then the eyes go back down and the speech immediately deflates to an appalling degree. If you don’t believe me, close your eyes and listen. It’s certain that you will know when he is looking at the audience and when at the paper. This is exacerbated by the script being in written-, as distinct from spoken-, English; but he shouldn’t have the bloody script in the first place.

I know for an absolute cast-iron certainty that he doesn’t need it. This is not just because I’ve proved it to countless trainees over the decades, but because I have actual evidence from the man himself. Watch this and see if there’s a script.

What he is doing there is monumentally difficult. It looks easy when it’s done that well, but it is without question the most skilful form of public speaking. He’s fallen into the trap of thinking that Public Speaking is in some way different – a formalised medium. It isn’t. It’s just structured talking, and he has shown he can do that phenomenally well.

The speech is brilliant and could and should have been brilliantly delivered. Because it’s personal no one on this planet could deliver it better than he if he did but dare bin the paper. It’s punchy, funny, clever, everything you want it to be. And it’s important.

One tiny caveat concerning paperless speaking. He often quotes people by reading what they said or wrote. On those occasions he is right to do so, because by being seen to read a quote you transmit a subliminal signal that you are not paraphrasing, but quoting faithfully.

Jim Carrey and his perfect wording

Maharishi International University, in Fairfield, Iowa, invited actor Jim Carrey to give the Commencement Address to the 2014 graduation class.

I remember being introduced to Carrey by one of my sons who had a video of one of Carrey’s early films. At the time I pointed out, as gently as an opinionated parent can, that pulling faces isn’t acting. It was some years later that I saw another of Carrey’s films and was forced to admit that the boy can play.

His splendid outfit here goes with his having been presented with an honorary doctorate of Fine Arts.

The introduction by Dr Bevan Morris is beautifully enunciated, overwhelmingly florid and very short.

Carrey doesn’t quite get hold of his opening gag, which is surprising for a pro. He slightly over-eggs it, and then mismanages his salvage attempt which is received a little half-heartedly. It’s not bad, just not quite as brilliant as it should be. It’s brave, in fact foolhardy, to try to hit the high comedy that hard that early.

Up to the four minute mark Carrey is appropriately zany, his material full of in-jokes of which I understand very little. Who cares! – it sets a good scene, and that is what he has intended. Then there is a gentle move towards matters poetic, and that is when I get uneasy.

It’s not that it’s poetic, it is that the spontaneity has gone and this sounds synthetic. It is a script. Has he learnt it, or is he using autocue or one of the other prompt-technologies? These things hide pretty well, and from our camera angle it’s difficult to spot, but yes it’s there! He’s reading this. What a pity!

I’ve heard all the arguments, and none of them stands up. If you are able to write it you are able to say it spontaneously. If you write it in the belief that you need to find the “perfect wording” then that “perfect wording” will never sound spontaneous but stilted, pretentious – yes, synthetic.

Worst of all it won’t sound sincere.

Admittedly I’m not his audience: those in the hall are lapping it up, but not as enthusiastically as they did his zany first minutes. The zany bit may have been a well-trodden comedy routine but still this actual performance of it was spontaneous. The poetic bit is the regurgitated results of sitting sweating over finding the “perfect wording”, and however warm’n’wonderful it may seem it is limp in comparison to when he wasn’t script-bound.

If he’d been shown how, he could have said all that poetic stuff spontaneously. And the audience would have lapped even more enthusiastically. What a shame!

Peter Ridd and the penalty for dissent.

At the end of September last year, 2018, LibertyFest held a conference in Brisbane, Australia. One of the speakers was Professor Peter Ridd, latterly of James Cook University (a.k.a. JCU) in Queensland, Australia.

Ridd had been in a spot of bother with JCU, and here he is speaking about it.

Oh what a shame! He’s reading it.

I don’t necessarily blame him, because he has probably been instructed at some stage in his life that he should script his speeches: there is still a lot of that nonsense taught. But you only have to home in on the little asides when his eyes lift from the script and the man is actually talking with us, as distinct from regurgitating something he wrote earlier, to appreciate the lift in quality. He has an appealing personality, and that bloody script is hiding too much of it.

To make this speech shootable from the hip could not be easier. It consists of autobiography mixed with scientific data with which he has worked for years. Everything here, if he were answering questions in an interview, he could rattle off effortlessly.

Nevertheless it is still an absorbing story of how an academic hears and reads lies published about his specialist subject, and has the temerity to say so. As a result his university tries to gag him and when that fails it fires him.

I have had, for some weeks, this speech in my stock of to-do material; and what caused me to dig it out now was reading recently in the press that the court had awarded Dr Ridd $1.2m against JCU in damages resulting from unfair dismissal. JCU is appealing the judgement.

We are repeatedly told that the catastrophic alarm attached to climate change is shared by 97% of climate scientists. Awkward bastards like me check the data and of course find that the assertion is garbage. You are actually hard pressed to find a single climate scientist, not dependant for salary, mortgage, and/or pension on conspicuously toeing the line, who agrees with the alarm. But even without our checking the data, stories like this must raise everyone’s suspicion of the claimed consensus. How genuine can be consent when this is the penalty for dissent?

Matt Ridley reads royally

On 17 October, at the Royal Society in London, Matt Ridley gave a talk that was widely publicised both before and after. Everyone knew that he would be discussing climate change, and adopting a position which would challenge much of its orthodoxy.

This should not be out of the ordinary at the Royal Society which was founded for the purpose of sceptically examining and debating matters scientific, and indeed has a motto – Nullius in Verba – which exhorts it not to take anyone’s word for anything. The trouble is that in recent years the Society had appeared to have become politicised into toeing the establishment line on climate change, and showing to any dissent a level of intolerance which shamed its distinguished history. Therefore the news that this talk would be happening was greeted with eyebrows either raised in surprised and delighted approval, or lowered into shocked disapproval, depending upon the political persuasion of their owner.

Ridley is preceded by Lord Lawson, chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who first offers well-deserved thanks to the Society for having withstood pressure from “fanatics” in holding this event. Then he introduces Ridley, describing him as “the leading scientific writer in the world today”. Ridley’s flattered astonishment at this description is fun to behold. Lawson also describes this talk as a ‘lecture’. This is a significant word because it literally means a reading, and a reading is indeed what we get.

I know, because he has been on this blog twice before – here and here, that Ridley absolutely does not need a script when he speaks. I tell my trainees that those who have learnt to speak without script or notes, but occasionally have to use them, treat those two impostors just the same, coping much better than those who clutch their paper like a drowning man does driftwood.

Ridley could easily deliver this talk with only occasional glances at his script, but he chooses slavishly to read it. Let’s look at the likely reasons.

Timing. It looks as if this is a 40-minute slot. Ridley actually speaks for a little over 36 minutes, allowing enough time for Lawson’s introduction and also a brief word of thanks and conclusion from Benny Peiser. This is courteous, professional and rare. There are some who could hit that sort of precision without the aid of a script, and Ridley may be one of them, but he has other reasons to read.

His slides. Working with a script enables him to change his slides bang on cue every time. It is safer and more precise.

The Press. You may think that I’m about to point out how, with this controversial subject, he has to watch his wording very carefully to minimise his exposure of being vilified by unfriendly reporters, and obviously there is something in that, but actually the issue is far more mundane. With a speech whose profile is as high as this, it’s a fairly safe bet that the press will have been given a transcript. Therefore he has to stick very close to that transcript. Like verbatim.

I suspect he would have preferred not to have read from a script. It robs him of spontaneity, and makes him prey to those rather lame stumblings that you can get when you read aloud. But he really has no choice.

I usually recommend just one technical adjustment to his modus operandi. Rather than turn over each page of the script, it is a little safer to slide each sheet to one side. This is the system habitually used by Chancellors of the Exchequer for their Budget speeches. It is more hazardous beforehand, because the sheets cannot be fastened together by anything more permanent than a paperclip (so you must number your pages), but provided the surface of the lectern is big enough it tends to be a smoother process. Nevertheless from what I have seen of Ridley, I suspect that he uses his system out of choice rather than ignorance of the alternative.

This lecture is historic, being a rare exception to the one-sided barrage of indoctrination that for years we have been fed by the media. It took place very much at the point of a sword, with alarmists fighting ferociously to try to prevent it. Benny Peiser, in his short concluding address, expresses the hope that it might pave the way for an actual grownup debate between adherents of the opposing climate change opinions. What a wonderful thought!

I shall not hold my breath. For years alarmists have fought to suppress debate, offering not arguments but name-calling. Nevertheless we can hope.

Douglas Carswell – with and without paper.

Douglas Carswell MP is the Member of Parliament for Clacton. With Daniel Hannan he is co-author of The Plan – an excellently provocative book. He has a blog with a huge readership: he posts almost daily, and his posts are gratifyingly succinct. He is also author of the recently published and thought-provoking The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy, a book of two halves as the title suggests. The first half is deliberately rather dispiriting and the second half is gloriously inspirational. I heartily recommend it: if you haven’t read it, treat yourself for Christmas.

In the May ’11 Auracle newsletter I included the following pair of speeches by him, as illustration of the difference between his delivery when reading from a script and when shooting from the hip.

Here is Carswell at a debate in Westminster Hall. As an example of great speaking it leaves a certain amount to be desired. I attribute much of this to the rather stilted style of debate that the environment and protocol probably dictate. At the very least he is obviously operating against immovable time constraints. Anyway, for whatever reason, he is using a script.

Here is the same man without a script. He begins speaking at 1:45.

The first example in Westminster Hall benefits by being far higher definition video footage. It took place nearly three years after the other example, so he has three more years of experience and maturity under his belt (at his age it is relatively significant). As an MP in a Westminster debate he is in more familiar surroundings, and addressing people that he probably knows. In other words he has almost everything going for him. Except the script. He is not bad with a script, but unless you are very skilled – like, for instance, Boris Johnson – there’s always that slight feeling that the words are coming off the page, in through the eyes and out through the mouth without really being processed en route. With whatever intensity he originally wrote the words and still feels the message, he is coming across as a bit of … a Talking Head.

In the second example the sound isn’t very good; the lighting isn’t helping the video quality; it’s probably being shot on a domestic camcorder so it’s relatively blurry. Also he was only 37 at the time, and there is noticeably less self-assurance in his demeanour: his nervousness shows in the way he fiddles with that folded piece of paper in his hands (his notes). And yet because he isn’t reading the speech you cannot help but feel that this man really means everything he is saying. The transparent sincerity is even enhanced by the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’.

The lesson to be learnt is that taking steps to rid yourself of the necessity for paper is really worthwhile. Don’t worry about the occasional error or halting delivery.  If anything that will enhance your standing with your audience.

It’s the live theatre effect. I tell my casts in stage shows not to worry about small errors. It is these, and the ever-present danger of total cock-up, that make live theatre more exciting.  Anyone who wants to see performances that are always seamlessly flawless should go and see a film.

You can break free of paper: The Face & Tripod will show you how.


Osborne and Balls. Stuff and nonsense.

There are times when the limitation I imposed upon myself for this blog –

discuss how they state their case and possibly how they might have stated it better, but do not get involved with the case itself

– is sorely tried. In fact today I’m going to breach it for one paragraph.

Watching footage of yesterday’s exchange in parliament between George Osborne and Ed Balls I just wanted to wade in, slap both their silly little faces, tell them to stop behaving like imbecilic juveniles, and actually start applying some serious new thought to the parlous state of the country’s economy. If you sweep aside the spin (which actually doesn’t need much sweeping since it is already pathetically flimsy) you realise that there is essentially no difference in the economic strategies of the last administration and this. Both are wedded to weary, discredited, bastardised  Keynesian principles, both are determined to do nothing more creative than firehose artificial money at real problems, both are hell-bent on steering the paddle-less craft further and further up the creek. And all to the accompaniment of puerile, tribal name-calling. And the preposterous BBC compounds the problem by acting as cheerleaders. Did you hear the Today programme this morning?  I had to leave the room in disgust. That programme used to be quite good, but your memory has to go back a few years.

Right! Back to my brief.

Sorry, Eddie dear. I both sympathise with you over your stammer and congratulate you on the success you have so far had in battling it. Nevertheless a stammer can do all sorts of things, but does not make you say the opposite of what you intended to say. I know that little Georgie had a script and therefore an advantage over you, but if either of you were any good at speaking you neither would need scripts. What you’d need is command of the subject, conviction and cool heads.

But you appear to have none of those things.


Talking Heads and Popping

Goodbye November: hello December.

Regular readers – if such a new blog can actually yet be said to have regular readers – will probably already have noticed two distinct trends emerging in the speech critiques so far posted.  They are my impatience with those who read their speeches from scripts (what I call ‘talking heads’) and with those whose microphone technique is so poor that their percussive consonants cause popping sounds to punctuate their speeches.

If you had begun to wonder whether this indicated that I was possessed with a narrow range of just two obsessions, then kindly stand in line behind me.  I have long wondered that also.  But the more speakers and speeches I hear – and, as you might expect, I have already heard more of both than any sane person should expect in several lifetimes – the more I find that these are by far the two most widespread errors.  Furthermore, to add to my frustration, they are both easily remedied.

Talking Heads.

In these critiques I always try to find examples wherein you get the comparison of seeing the same person both reading his speech and then at some other time ‘shooting from the hip’ as I call it.  I hope that you thus get to see and marvel at the transformation.  It is not just a minor detail: it puts the speaker immediately into another class.

When people are asked about speakers or speeches that impressed them, a comment that nearly always comes out is along the lines of, “He spoke for twenty minutes without once referring to any notes.”  That suggests it to be a rare skill and therefore a premium bonus.  It is not – or should not be – a premium bonus.

I have lost count of the number of times I have had the following said to me, “You’ll never get me to be able to do without a script”.  (This comes out often at the preliminary meeting that I usually have with a prospect trainee.)

For more than twenty years I have uttered the same reply – and it remains true to this day, “If I don’t, you’ll be the first.”

The skill boils down to two simple principles –

  • You need to know how, and
  • You need to know you can.

It doesn’t matter how thoroughly you learn the first of those, you are never going to dare try it ‘in anger’ unless and until you know you can.  So if I conduct a course with you I not only explain how, but also I very thoroughly prove to you that you absolutely and easily can.  In my book The Face & Tripod I cover the first element, and make suggestions on how you can deal with the second.  I admit that the result may not be as secure as doing a course with me, but it is one hell of a lot cheaper!

I don’t care who you are: you – reading this – can make a speech without using paper.  I say that with total confidence.  You could make a twenty-minute speech without reference to any script or notes.

So what price now “a premium bonus”?   It’s not a bonus: its absence is a grotesque failing.  And as you have already seen in this blog the failing is appallingly widespread – even among those who are actually paid money to speak!.  I’d love to change the universal attitude to paperless speaking.  It should not be regarded as a rare skill belonging only to special people: it should be the norm.  Those who make speeches from scripts should be regarded as sad numpties beyond the pale.

I admit in my book that there are occasions and good reasons when there is no escape – you have to use a script.  But those who have learnt to do without manage scripts better.  Look back at Boris from a couple of days ago.  He was using a script, but I forgave him.  It wasn’t because he was Teacher’s Pet (remember I bollocked him for popping his microphone): it was because he spoke as if spontaneously.  And there was a reason for that.   It sounded spontaneous because it was spontaneous.  Look back at his video and you’ll see he manages with only occasional glances at the script to keep him on his speech-writer’s track.  He is shooting from the hip.

In the next week or so we’ll have an example of a sitting British MP, with videos of two speeches: one where he had to have a script and one where he didn’t   The difference is dramatic.  We also have two examples from a recent British Prime Minister, one speech with a script and one without.  The difference is even greater.

Tomorrow I hope to look at microphone popping.