Jen Kuznicki hidden by a script

In early July 2018 Jen Kuznicki delivered a speech in Toledo, Ohio. If the banner on the wall behind her is a clue, she was addressing a branch of the Tea Party.

If you ask a Tea Party member what the party stands for they will tell you small government, low taxes, personal freedom. Ask a leftist what it stands for they will tell you that they’re nazis. You can decide for yourself whether that tells you more about the Tea Party or leftists.

We join this halfway through a sentence. Kuznicki is telling the audience a little about herself. Rhetoricians call this Ethos. What to me is important is that she is talking to the audience. It may be a little halting, but so what? Her own real personality is coming through here, together with her personal charm. (I know she has plenty – I follow her on Twitter.)

But she doesn’t think she’s started  yet.

At 0:39 she turns to her script, and now she is no longer speaking to the audience. Her mouth is relaying to the audience what she wrote earlier. She is now just a talking head, and great swathes of her personal charm have gone AWOL.

She’s a journalist, and a good one. What she’s reading is good stuff, and she’s reading it pretty well. But it isn’t her! Her personality is hidden behind that bloody script.

She doesn’t need that script. She thinks she does, but she doesn’t. With just a little tweaking to the structure, and a little guidance she could come out from behind that script, even from behind that lectern, and really engage that audience shooting from the hip.

When the video cuts away at the end, we hear the beginnings of good applause. In her own account on her website she tells us that she received a standing ovation. I believe it: as I said, this is good stuff. But it could so easily have been immeasurably better if Jen Kuznicki, as distinct from a talking head representing Jen Kuznicki, had done the delivery.

I’m not angling for business: I’m seventy-one and trying to slow down. But if she contacts me through this blog I’ll happily arrange to give her a free hour’s Skype consultation to set her on her way to scriptless freedom. Just as her writing needs to be read, her voice – her voice – needs to be heard.

 

Nikki Haley: quietly tough

When Donald Trump became US President he made a great many appointments, as new incumbents to such an office do. One of the many things to have distinguished his administration from others, however, is how many appointees have subsequently been fired. This might appear to indicate that he got his first choices wrong, but there is another explanation. He could have chosen individuals with specific skillsets to address particular issues, and then replaced them with other specialists for other issues once the first ones had been dealt with.

The latter process is somewhat alien to the political mindset so few commentators seem to think in those terms, but Trump is not a politician. He operates as a businessman does, and a dispassionate evaluation of his administration thus far cannot but be impressed by how much he has achieved and how quickly.

Trump’s appointment of Nikki Haley to be US Ambassador to the United Nations was immediately interesting because her image is so different to that of the President. He hides astonishing astuteness behind a facade of boorish bluster. Her quiet, understated efficiency camouflages a resolve for which the cliché ‘steely’ is inadequate.

A feature of her Ambassadorship is the extent to which this quietly spoken woman has maintained such a high profile for the job, and it’s easy to see why. Whereas predecessors mouthed the usual mealy diplomatic platitudes, Haley doesn’t do mealy any more than Trump does. She coveys the toughest of messages … quietly. Let’s watch one example.

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, makes the introduction, and comes fairly close to pre-empting Ambassador Haley’s announcement. Haley begins at 4:00.

Tiny error at the very beginning. Haley looks round fleetingly at Pompeo when thanking him. It’s one of those few things that feel right but look wrong. It feels right, because it conveys warmth. It looks wrong because it looks somehow weak. Spool back and you’ll see that Pompeo, with all his glowing compliments, never weakens his introduction by looking round at her.

It is a significant achievement to describe something as self-important as the UNHRC as “a cesspool of political bias” without sounding strident. Haley is equal to the task.

This speech is about fig leaves. Who needs ’em? The afore-mentioned cesspool has been using the USA as a fig leaf to convey respectability: too many think that the USA needs membership of the cesspool as a fig leaf to confirm their concern for human rights: and so on. Haley makes clear that the USA’s record on human rights is way better than the members of the UNHRC, and she is correct.

There’s a clear equivalent in the USA’s CO2 emissions record being better than any of those countries still espousing the preposterous Paris Agreement.

I opened with my rhetor hat on, and I’ll briefly re-don it to close.

My aversion to scripted speeches is well-known, but I acknowledge that sometimes scripts are necessary. I make that point in my book, heading the list of those circumstances with when the Press has a transcript of the speech. This is such an occasion, so I can’t criticise either Secretary Pompeo or Ambassador Haley for their scripts. But isn’t it interesting that arch-proponents of scripted speaking (and they exist!) try to give, as a principal reason, fluency and lack of stumbles. Both Pompeo and Haley  stumble here, and they do so in that particular way that readers stumble. Those speakers who shoot from the hip (and I bet that includes these two when circumstances permit) also stumble, but their stumbles are different and somehow more audience friendly.

Mark Steyn makes me LOL

The Heartland Institute’s Tenth International Conference on Climate Change on June 12, 2015, had a keynote speech from Mark Steyn.

I include Mark Steyn on this blog every couple of years or I start suffering from withdrawal. The man is great listening, because he’s opinionated, articulate, and funny. I marvel that the first time I covered a Steyn speech here I castigated him for reading it. I knew then that he didn’t need to (no one needs to) but I hadn’t yet seen him shooting from the hip or, if I may mix my metaphors, spreading his wings and flying. I have now, very many times; in fact the speech we’re watching today was eventually chosen from three over which I spent an enjoyable afternoon agonising.

Actually if I’m going to be desperately picky, and I get desperately picky only with speakers who are desperately good, Steyn does have a script – or at least notes. The difference though, since his first appearance here in March 2013, is that he now writes it in spoken, as distinct from written, English. What’s more he has perfected his technique to the point that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

He has a few speaking mannerisms, like that of repeating his phrases a huge amount, but I’m prepared to bet that without my pointing it out almost no one would notice. It’s my job to spot such things, so I do, but I always tell my trainees the same about mannerisms. If you are interesting/entertaining/absorbing enough no one will ever notice. Steyn’s interest/entertainment/absorption is far more than enough, and that’s another reason that his glances at the lectern are barely noticeable.

And he’s funny! He’s laugh-out-loud funny. He really knows how to do it, and let’s not belittle that skill: it is hugely difficult. Steyn can write funny as well as speak funny, and that’s an unusual combination. A central plank of his spoken comedy is that he doesn’t try to do it all the time, when he does he plays it straight-face and throws it away. Throw-away is a wonderful comedy technique, because it doesn’t pressure the audience by begging them to laugh. Nevertheless it is not speaker-proof: it still needs expert timing, and he has that timing.

At one point – and I won’t spoil it by telling you where – Steyn uses his script as a comedy prop. It’s hilarious enough for me to forgive him the script.

And anyway, though a few years ago I could have easily had him throwing his paper away, if he came to me today I would tell him not to bother. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and it certainly ain’t broke.

Ann McElhinney made me weep.

Texas Alliance for Life hosted, in Austin on 5 October, 2017, a talk from Ann McElhinney. If you click the link on her name you will reach a page devoted to both her and Phelim McAleer, her husband. The pair are a formidable and fearless team dedicated to investigative journalism and the search for truth behind news stories, and it was a close race as to which of them would be examined in this posting. Phelim will undoubtedly feature before very long.

She is speaking both on the book they wrote about Kermit Gosnell and also their film on the same subject.

There’s something about the Irish accent! Perhaps it’s just memories of happy times I have spent there, but for me the sound is immediately friendly. Phelim, her husband, has Northern Irish vowels but she is clearly from the Republic, west coast I reckon.

Her start is likewise audience-friendly. This sort of apparently scatty sorting-out of technical bits and pieces is a great way of fighting nerves. I tell trainees that relaxing your audience is a very effective way of relaxing yourself. She has an important opening question for her audience, but she camouflages its weight behind the performance of technical faffing around. Scatty she ain’t! This is one smart woman. Friendly she may be, but only if you are on the side of the angels.

Silence from the audience in response to a brief and unexplained section beginning at 04:10 referring to Representative Murphy shows that this Texas audience doesn’t know the story. If you want enlightenment you could start by looking here.

This is my type of speaker! She has notes to which she refers for slides and things, but essentially her speaking is all shooting from the hip. Even more important than that is that I detect no vestige of speech mode. What you see is what you get, and what you get is the genuine person. She lets all her idiosyncrasies hang out, because she couldn’t care less about herself: all that matters is her message and whether her audience is getting it. That is the ideal speaker’s mindset, and it is what makes her so powerful. Could she tidy up the structure? Perhaps a tiny bit, but the narrative thread is so strong that we are swept over all the bumps in the road.

And the road certainly is bumpy! This is not a pretty story, but by heaven it’s an important one. On this blog over the years, in 360+ postings, I have covered some very valuable speeches. I rate this in the top three, maybe higher. People absolutely need to learn what she has to tell.

Watch this speech, and at the end you may find yourself like me in a puddle of tears.

Thierry Baudet: nearly fantastische

Late in 2017 The Oxford Union hosted a debate on the motion, This House Believes the Decline and Fall of the European Union is Upon us. One of the speakers proposing the motion was Thierry Baudet.

Baudet is Dutch, which of course means that – like many Northern Europeans – he speaks English better than most English people. I have almost rid myself of resentment of this, my late wife and mother of my sons having been Danish; but how well does one of these linguistic geniuses deliver a speech? Let’s find out.

Immediately I delight that other than that little piece of paper, visible in the still shot and presumably bearing bullet-point signposts, he is shooting from the hip. I think he looks at it only once. Because none of my trainees needs even that little paper I am tempted to put this tiny failing down to whatever crumb remains of language barrier. I’d be wrong. When researching him my eye was caught by another speech described as “Fantastische”, and though I could understand not a word and though that audience audibly enjoyed it, I can tell you that it was read from a script. Could it be that for him public speaking is actually easier in English?

I am thrilled to be able smugly to point out an error. Where the noun is ‘instability’, the adjective is ‘unstable’. Yes of course it’s an anomaly, but what’s new? – this is English. He repeatedly describes the EU as ‘instable’. He’s absolutely right in his diagnosis, just wrong in his idiom.

I thought that Oxford Union debate speeches were allowed eight minutes, but he has bells rung at him when he has barely cleared six minutes. This seems to unsettle him a little. It’s a pity because he is both articulate and coherent, and he certainly has the measure of the EU – and not just its instability. He kicks its dogma.

Among other things you will find that he effortlessly demolishes the fallacy that past European conflicts in general and WW2 in particular were built on nationalism. The reverse was the truth.

He’s good. He’s very good. He’s nearly fantastische.

Jordan Peterson. Who needs bridges?

For some weeks I have had a speech sitting awaiting my attention. I found it when the story broke of Lindsay Shepherd. She was the teacher at Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario, who was brutally reprimanded for showing her students a clip of a TVOntario debate. If you missed it you can learn the whole scandalous story here. I warn you that you may wonder how and where any university finds such imbecilic administrators.

It was in wanting to learn more about the speaker to whose disgusting ravings she had subjected her poor students that I found clinical psychologist Dr Jordan Peterson and the speech we will examine today.

It had been gathering dust in my to-do stock till he hit the news again this past week after his TV interview on Britain’s Channel 4 went viral on YouTube. The interviewer, Cathy Newman, was determined to humiliate him, but instead was completely outclassed. Ch4 has declared that she has since been subjected to vile online abuse. I haven’t seen any, but that proves nothing. They claim that they “called in security”, but that proves nothing either.

Personally I found Newman’s wilful misunderstanding of his answers intensely irritating, but in retrospect I find I have some sympathy for her. It seems to me that she is as much a victim as Lindsay Shepherd of a fashionable anti-free-speech culture in academia and the media. When free speech gets suppressed, when ‘safe spaces’ and ‘no platforming’ prevail, the final result will be – as Peter Hitchens said in a speech I covered very recently – silence. What he did not say was that meanwhile people will lose the ability to engage in debate. Newman probably thinks she’s adept at crushing opposing views, but she looks as if she has never properly encountered any. Holders of views at odds with today’s fashionable pieties, if they ever get the chance to air them at all, are immediately bullied into grovelling apology. Therefore, along with her fellow PC cohorts, she has never had to punch anything tougher than a marshmallow.

Then along comes Dr Peterson who knows his stuff, will not back down unless out-argued, treats her discourtesy with courtesy, will not allow her to misrepresent him, stays calm and good humoured, and the more aggressive she gets the more he laughs. With any luck he has blazed the trail for others, and one day once again media interviewers will have to learn how to do it.

Dedicated followers of fashionable pieties need to bear in mind that today’s cutting-edge chic is tomorrow’s avocado bathroom suite.

Let’s watch this speech that I’ve had sitting around. It comes from his Biblical Series, but with the length of my preamble this time I do not intend to comment on the content but restrict myself to his delivery style which I find interesting.

We join in the middle of a sentence, and it doesn’t matter because it feels typical of the entire speech. Peterson here speaks sporadically with huge pauses.

I’m delighted to report, though not surprised, that he shoots from the hip. As I tell my trainees, it is not only ridiculously easy to learn how to speak without notes but the learning is one of the best investments you can make to your personal image as a speaker. Audiences love speakers who do it because it conveys command of the subject, spontaneity, sincerity, all the things that an audience wants from a speaker. And you speak better for it.

I’ve put some thought to his huge pauses. I think he must be a modular speaker, with a big library in his mind of modules that he can use to explain this, to outline that, and so on. I’ve come across many such, and I even do it myself to a degree, but as a rule I advocate preparing bridges to join the modules. He seems to eschew that principle, and doesn’t care that parts of the talk seem severely disjointed. The funny thing is that he has a stage presence that almost seems to benefit from those gaping periods of silence. I’m fascinated.

I shall seek out more of his talks.

Roger Scruton: not at all bad

When I saw that the Oxford Union had just posted online a video of Professor Sir Roger Scruton delivering to them a talk followed by Q&A, I was eager to watch it.

For some reason his writings have thus far passed me by, but I heard him in a lengthy interview on a friend’s podcast recently and I was in equal measure impressed with him and disappointed with myself for having not properly encountered him ages ago. He’s a couple of years older than I, we share roughly the same amount of hair, of roughly the same shade, and of comparable disorder. He can’t be all bad.

He’s a writer.

All too often on this blog I have raged against those who read their speeches, but I shall not with him because he has bridged much of the huge gap between the written and the spoken word. He has evidently worked at being able to restrict himself to mere occasional glances at his paper, so our losing his eyes from time to time does not drastically impede the quality of his delivery. Likewise he has prepared this almost entirely in spoken, rather than written, English.

Nevertheless there remains the intensity of detail. This is structured as a piece of writing. If you were reading it you could stop and ponder a section before moving on to the next. You could also re-read passages. We here can pause the video, or rewind to review, but the audience in the hall can’t. Any lapse of concentration and what they miss they miss for ever.

It needs broader brush-strokes. It needs the flow of data to be slowed down from time to time. It needs to be blocked out in a fashion that anyone could follow. I know the audience consists of not anyone, but very accomplished students, but I also know from experience that academic prowess doesn’t make you immune to data overload. I’m afraid he does periodically lose some of his audience: we can hear it in the coughing. They’re missing some brilliant stuff!

I felt myself itching to rebuild the speech from the ground up, restructuring in a way that enabled him to dispense entirely with paper and the audience not to miss a syllable.

That said, he inserts some lovely touches of humour from time to time and the audience welcomes the opportunity to relax and regroup: the coughing recedes. During the Q&A, he obviously has no choice but to shoot from the hip and of course this is when we see the power of his delivery at its best. At its best it is extremely good.

Even at its worst it is not at all bad.