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.

 

 

 

Patrick Minford is nearly tickety-boo

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. We recently looked at Jacob Rees-Mogg’s speech. It was immediately preceded by one from Patrick Minford. Sadly the online video of that speech is in two parts, and I’m far too impatient to fiddle around with that, so instead I have gone back to another Bruges Group meeting in November 2016, also addressed by Professor Minford.

The messiness of his opening can, I think, be put down principally to nerves. It reeks to me of Hump. The speech dramatically comes together at 1:17 when he addresses the question “What was the Brexit vote for?” He gives his answer and the audience gives his answer a round of applause. Just imagine if that had been his opening – a bald opening. He’d have received that spontaneous applause within 15 seconds of starting, which would have done wonders for his Hump, and his opening would have been clean and mess-free.

Of course I understand the pressure that says that you must acknowledge and thank a gracious introduction. I equally understand the real value of the little bit of self-deprecating humour concerning the previous time he spoke there, but there are ways of satisfying both those imperatives while still starting with a hump-busting bald opening.

At any rate, from that point you can sense his nerves evaporating down to a manageable level while his natural capacity for thinking on his feet builds proportionately. A couple of minutes later he is going like a train.

I’d like to say that thereafter everything is tickety-boo, and it very nearly is because he knows his subject and can talk the hind-legs off a donkey. With a little bit of minor tweaking to the structure he wouldn’t need even that little scrap of paper that he uses as a comfort blanket. He could shoot the whole thing from the hip, everything would be tickety-boo, and that’s the way I like it.

Dambisa Moyo is wonderful

In September 2016, One Young World held a summit in Ottawa, Canada. It was addressed by Dr Dambisa Moyo, author of Dead Aid, a book that is well worth reading.

Kate Robertson, co-founder of One Young World makes the introduction, and huddles throughout. I don’t think she’s cold – not in September: I think she’s genuinely star-struck, and her words seem to bear this out. The introduction is just long enough to say what it needs to say, and short enough to infect us with her excitement.

Moyo enters from upstage, silhouetted against a brightly lit backcloth. It’s a nice production touch and I begin to feel impressed. By the time the greeting embraces are concluded she is fully front-lit as she heads for the lectern where the microphones are, except – what’s this? – she’s already speaking, we can hear her clearly, and she’s nowhere near the lectern yet. She must be wearing a radio mic, and the sound engineer is on the ball.

I have been accustomed over the years to castigating conference organisers for stage-management shortcomings which are usually technical, may be small, but are irritatingly symptomatic of a lack of professional care. I have so say, on the basis of this talk, that this seems to be a flawlessly-run conference. Bouquets all round.

Moyo more than upholds that standard. She is a very fine speaker indeed. Here we have a little over twenty minutes of stunningly well structured speech, shot throughout from the hip. If you want to see unembellished excellence on a speaking platform, here is a prime example.

If you are puzzled by that adjective ‘unembellished’ let me explain. I search in vain for any artifice. I am convinced that she is striking that most difficult of all poses: she is being herself, and that is why her message is so powerful. There is plenty in what she says that I find debatable, and would enjoy debating it, but that subtracts not a jot from my admiration of this speech.

You may think that one who tours the globe making such speeches would be bound to be brilliant, but if so you haven’t seen much of this blog. Trust me: it doesn’t follow.

This is wonderful.

 

 

 

Peter Thiel: rich in substance

I came across this speech by Peter Thiel at the National Review Institute Summit. It is difficult to establish exactly when it was delivered, as the video was posted on YouTube on 14 March this year, whereas the National Review Institute website dates their summit on 16 & 17 March. One thing we can surmise from the introduction by Rich Lowry is that it took place very shortly after the Presidential Inauguration, and I reckon we are looking here at late January; though puzzlingly Thiel refers to Obama as ‘the current president’, and significantly never mentions him by name at all.

I was interested to witness a speech by Thiel, not just because he is a billionaire but because he is unusual in being a rare republican billionaire. I found other speeches, but chose to cover this one.

Rich Lowry’s introduction lasts six minutes, and he shoots it from the hip which pleases me. I am also pleased that he isn’t fawning completely over his introducee. He leaves us in no doubt that he is less than happy about the (then) very new Trump presidency, and Thiel had very publicly supported the Trump campaign. But then, they are both of the Right which is more tolerant than the Left.

Thiel also shoots from the hip. Perhaps his principal message is that for the past decade, or thereabouts, there has been a startling change in electronic human interaction; but in more substantive areas like energy, travel, manufacturing, the USA has lost what had appeared to be an irresistible momentum. He seems to put this down chiefly to everything being regulated to a standstill.

He is quite obviously highly intelligent and very well read, but the speech suffers here and there from being not clearly structured and therefore a little incoherent. He knows what he is trying to get across, but sometimes for us the thread is difficult to follow. He is a chess player of international standing, and if I try rather clumsily to use a chess metaphor it’s as if he is trying to describe a particular game to those of us unable to hold that many moves in our heads.

Some would say that this would have been solved by his having a script, and to a degree they’d be right, but the price would be a dreadful loss of spontaneity. Here is another of his speeches that is obviously read off a teleprompter; and it makes makes my point by being smooth, fluent and consequently rather tedious.

The choice is not either/or.  You can have both spontaneity and clarity. You just need to know how.

At 29:22 he closes his speech elegantly with a slightly distorted quote from Dylan Thomas; and then we move into Q&A, not with questions from the floor but an interview with Rich Lowry who introduced him.

Here, as so often happens with speakers like this, Thiel comes into his own. The questions provide him with the structure he needed earlier, and the result is clarity.

Thiel is a man who needs to be heard, because there’s so much substance there, but he also needs to be better understood.

 

 

 

 

Jacob Rees-Mogg: a long investment.

On 2 October, 2017, The Bruges Group held a meeting at the Great Hall in Manchester. Inevitably the theme was Brexit, and the meeting was addressed by a series of experts on the subject. One of them was Jacob Rees-Mogg, a very fine speaker, so I haven’t wasted the opportunity to bring the speech here.

I enjoy listening to his speaking not only because of his articulacy, coherence, his skilful delivery, and so on but because I admire the man. The beautiful balance of his arguments is not artifice. His old-fashioned manners and cut-glass accent may suggest that he is cold, distant and out of touch, but his record dramatically belies that. There are examples of his having, for instance, courteously drawn the claws of quite hostile opponents on TV panel discussions.

He is introduced by Barry Legg, Chairman of this meeting and indeed of the Bruges Group. JRM, as I shall call him hereafter for brevity, begins just after the 4-minute mark though you may like to join at around 3:50 in order to understand his first sentence.

Preliminaries over, he tells his audience that if people take the trouble to come to these meetings, for whatever reason, he wants to engage with their arguments. He is as good as his word. At this same meeting there is disruption from invading protesters waving banners saying “Tories Out”. Before bouncers can evict them, JRM approaches one in order to exchange thoughts. You can watch the episode here.

Of course JRM uses no paper. At 6:38 a bell is heard tolling in the distance. He instantly utters a throw-away quip, being well rewarded with a laugh. This sort of spontaneity is one of the hallmarks of those who shoot from the hip. Audiences love both, and both are absurdly easy.

The speech was well received by the Twitterati at the time it was delivered. I am pleased to agree.

Jeffrey Archer: light relief.

Given the interesting time we inhabit it is not surprising, I suppose, that recent postings on this blog have been a little – shall we say? – earnest? You will also not be surprised to learn that my small stockpile of speeches yet to be addressed here are all likewise rather meaty.

What better escape to light relief could there be than to listen to the reminiscences of a best selling novelist? – whether or not we are conscious that the narrative thread we are following sits in a life tapestry that has been quite as dramatic as those we are escaping. Jeffrey Archer has thus far had an eventful life.

He chose, however, to restrict this talk at the Oxford Union to an author’s reminiscence; and I think I am rather grateful.

There are various ways of introducing impact early to a speech. Jovially castigating your audience in the manner of a strict schoolteacher is as good as any. He certainly makes the characterisation work, and reintroduces it at strategic points later.

My word, but he’s a fantastic speaker; and he knows to play to his strength. His strength is his skill as a raconteur. You may think that an obvious ‘given’ for a novelist, but it absolutely does not automatically follow. You may think that a hugely successful writer must inevitably be an expert speaker, but that does not follow either. On this blog we have sampled the speaking of some stupendously fine writers who were lousy speakers. I will risk boring you by repeating yet again that written English and spoken English are different languages and require different skills – subtly different, but different.

Furthermore, he is talking about himself; and that is a notorious minefield.

He uses no paper when he speaks: he shoots from the hip. That is not a difficult skill to learn but it does take a measure of well-directed application. He has taken the trouble to learn. So here we witness an expert story-teller and wordsmith. and he spans both languages. What a joy to watch this speech!

Do I have no negative comments? Well I’d prefer it if he didn’t fold his arms from time to time. It’s not because I’ve read somewhere that this is defensive body-language (though obviously I have, as probably have you). It’s because the rest of the time he seems completely in control of the show, but that seems to slip when he has his arms folded. I’ve worked with people who buck the trend and seem completely relaxed with their arms folded, but he doesn’t – not to me.

Oh yes, and I’m not crazy about his red elbow-pads. There I’ve said it.