Rory Stewart displays excellence

Rory Stewart is a very, very good speaker

I am there quoting myself in a posting from 1 November, 2013. Though I had to go back to check the date and details I have never forgotten the impact on me that speech had. Thus when I spotted this lecture at Yale, delivered in April 2018, I was eager to watch it if only to indulge myself.

I did more than check details on that previous post, I re-read it and will take back not a word. Rory Stewart is outstanding. We see him here displaying all the qualities of all the best speakers.

During preliminary chats with my trainees, I regularly hear the protestation that they’re “ok” when lucky enough to be dealing with subject matter they know really well, but when ordered to deliver a presentation on something of which they have scant knowledge they are less good. Well of course! In an ideal world no one would be asked to speak on something they didn’t really know (though there are tricks); but this isn’t an ideal world and adverse circumstances arise.

Stewart here is being rather better than “ok”.

We see him showing total command of his subject, quoting from memory myriad facts, figures and a wide range of random data, and we are reminded that he makes his own luck. Consider the extraordinary lengths to which he goes in order to get right under the skin of the communities and cultures with which he deals. In 2002 he took leave from his job with the British foreign service to walk across Asia, entitling him thereafter to speak for those at the grass roots as one who had lived there.

There is another less obvious quality to his knowledge of his subject. Deep knowledge brings with it a heightened awareness of that which you don’t know. Stewart’s willingness in this speech to admit to questions to which he has no answers speaks eloquently for his inner confidence. Insecurity would not allow that admission.

That quality enriches the questions he receives. Though the absence of an audience mic prevents us from properly hearing the questions, the way he addresses them seems to acknowledge their value; and his answers to these relatively random issues are as full of detailed data from memory as the main body of the speech.

Had I been in the audience I would have highlighted the way the developed world’s devotion to the preposterous climate change fallacy denies impoverished African countries access to cheap energy from coal. I would have challenged his repeatedly trotting out ‘legitimate state monopoly on the use of violence’ as a commonplace desirability, because defining ‘legitimate’ presents immediate knottiness, even if you are prepared to overlook the 2nd amendment in the US Bill Of Rights, and so on. His attitude throughout suggests he is open to debating all views, and the consequent conversation will be the richer for it.

Yes he really is a very good speaker, equipped with an outstanding memory, and amazingly adept at addressing matters that are miles outside his apparent expertise. Here is a speech that I offer as a bonus and which moved Madam Deputy Speaker to declare it one of the best speeches she had ever heard in the House of Commons.

James Tooley battles bureaucritis

Sometimes, going about your normal life, your attention gets grabbed by a flurry of activity that disturbs the ambient rhythms around you. I’m sure you have experienced such things. It was such for me in the case of James Tooley and his book The Beautiful Tree.

The book describes how Tooley assembled evidence that annihilated the received wisdom, espoused by the clerisy, concerning the provision of education. I am not an educationist but I do study the clerisy. They are a species urgently in need of study. I immediately bought a copy of the book, and reading it persuaded me to go hunting for a speech by Tooley.

This speech appears to have been ‘topped’. It is not unusual. Those who post such videos often edit out messy openings in order to clean up the final product. I study messy openings, so the practice robs me of data, but I commend clean bald ones, so the practice provides me with examples to uphold. This, whether Tooley or the video editors made it, is a lovely bald opening.

At 01:32 there is an interesting incident. Tooley, with that excellent opening, appears to have hump nerves subjected under his heel and by now should be on a roll; yet he gets stuck, searching for the word ‘reconcile’ (and he never finds it). This is a classic nerve symptom, stress having a fiendish ability to diminish our capacity for thinking on our feet. Usually when I see such as this I know immediately what the problem is and what to do about it, yet without speaking with him I am at a loss as to what is going on. There are nerves there which shouldn’t be, not with a speaker as good as this.

And good he is! He has spurned the lectern and is shooting from the hip like a proper speaker. He is not using his few slides as signposts: he proves that when one of them appears out of sequence and he adjusts accordingly. His slides serve him, not the other way around. Using slides as signposts is a cheating trick used by those whose memorised structure is not good enough to stand on its own. His structure is very strong, which is why his message is so coherent. His evident passion for the message reinforces the coherence. He’s doing everything right.

His spurning of the lectern has an amusing byproduct. By stepping to the side he is now standing immediately in front of a reverend father who appears to be chairing the event. Not only is the father now masked, but because he has slightly tinted spectacles and we can’t see his eyes, he seems to be asleep at one point. Then he gives the lie to that by laughing.

The speech is very good, and clearly conveys the message that the world’s poorest – yes, the world’s poorest – are educated privately, not for want of state free schools but because the private schools are better. I invite you to re-read that sentence and let it sink in.

That is heretical to the clerisy. But then the clerisy is infected by an ailment I call bureaucritis. Bureaucritis is a viciously virulent, internationally metastatic, form of tunnel vision. Every proposition Tooley makes they dismiss out of hand, and progressively more aggressively.

Private schools for the very poorest don’t exist: yes they do, I’ve found thousands and here are the data. They’re useless: they out-perform the state schools and here are the data. The teachers aren’t qualified: I refer you to my previous answer. And so it goes on.

If a matter as huge as the world’s education of the poorest can be termed a microcosm, it is a microcosm of many of the social and political ills that afflict the world. Bureaucritic clerisy, sincere and well-meaning – though woefully misguided, are pathologically incapable of thinking outside their tiny box. The clerisy are learned but stupid. The reason is clearly explained by the great Thomas Sowell when he writes that decisions should never be left to those who pay no price for being wrong. The clerisy pay no price for being wrong, because their employment is invariably feather-bedded and their only measure of rightness is whether their bureaucritic peers agree with them.

Great speech. Great message. Admirable man. Important lesson.

Nicole Stubbs and mobile profiles.

On Friday 25 October, Nicole Stubbs, Co-Founder and CEO of First Access,  spoke at PopTech 2013. I knew it was coming, and I watched it live on line. I knew it was coming because Nicole has consulted me. We have had Skype sessions, both before and since this speech.

That opening is fabulous! Some sort of dramatic physical action like this is an excellent way of grabbing the audience’s attention, and it also is a sound hump-busting device.

This is a wonderful example! I love the cavalier way she takes these precious items and strews them around her on the floor. It puts me in mind of a supermodel on a catwalk, dragging a priceless coat behind her on the floor. Oh, how I’d love to lay claim to that brilliant piece of theatre, but I cannot! She showed it to me the first time we spoke. I loved it then, and I love it still.

I might be able to lay some claim to the steadiness of her hands during it: the camera closes in for a tight view, and at the height of her hump there is no trembling. There is a way to make sure of that, and she has read my book, The Face & Tripod. She has really read it: she quotes lumps of it at me with frightening fluency.

  • 0:43 I think I’d like one more sentence. I say, “I think” because my already knowing what all this about, it’s difficult for me to know whether the point she is making is completely clear to those hearing it for the first time. The point is made clear very shortly afterwards, but I felt it possibly needed a headline.
  • 2:48 – “awkward if you don’t…” got a nice laugh. I wonder whether adding “humiliating if you do” might have introduced a bitter-sweet tinge.
  • 4:09 beautiful pause.
  • 6:08 we on-line are given a long shot and we see the slide behind her. It’s a good one – an alliterating triad and she’s doing the right thing by speaking through it without looking at it and surrendering her focus.
  • 7:22 A hiatus! Or is it? Has something gone wrong, or is this a huge dramatic pause? If the latter, does it work?

Shall we try to find out?