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.

 

 

 

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.