Steve Bannon speaks.

A few days ago, the Oxford Union hosted a talk from Steve Bannon.

How many times have you seen film footage of Adolph Hitler making a speech? Same question re: Joseph Stalin: same question re: Mao Zedong. I fancy the three answers are likely to be, “many times”, “never”, “never”. Hitler is widely held to be the world’s most evil person in the 20th Century, whereas the other two still have substantial followings in their own countries and elsewhere. Hitler was diabolical, but in terms of the deaths he caused he was a non-starter compared with the other two. That for me is one of the strongest arguments against the No-Platform movement, because if someone really is evil the world and posterity need to hear from his own lips how evil. If they are no-platformed, doubt will remain.

Am I, with that paragraph, comparing Steve Bannon to people whose respective body-counts are in the tens of millions? No, I’m explaining why we should be keen to watch this speech.

He starts with an account of how on 18 September, 2008, in the Oval Office, the heads of the US Treasury and Goldman Sachs told the President, George W. Bush, that only an injection of one trillion dollars would save the world from economic collapse. That is a high-impact opening.

[Let’s take a moment to look at one trillion as a number. If you’d been counting one trillion dollar bills non-stop at one dollar a second, and had just finished, you’d have needed to start around 30,000 BC.]

Bannon speaks for a smidgeon under half-an-hour and the rest is questions. There are so many questions that in conscientiously answering them he over-runs his time and we learn that he misses his flight.

The speech is so important, as are the answers to the questions, that my critiquing seems impertinent, so I’ll keep it very brief.

I am delighted and not surprised that he speaks entirely without notes. His structure could be a little tidier, both to avoid repetition, therefore saving time, and to make his message(s) even more digestible for his audience.

During questions he ducks nothing, even welcoming the most confrontational. The only time he criticises a questioner is to tell him to stop reading his question and “speak from the heart”. I raise a cheer at that.

I congratulate the Oxford Union for this talk, as I did when they hosted Tommy Robinson. Their audience, both in the hall and on the internet, is grown-up enough to evaluate people on their own account, rather than being forced to rely on second-hand views in the media.

 

Andrew Klavan needs beaker

The Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley (who’da thought?) invited Andrew Klavan to speak at their annual Christmas / Hanukkah party last year.

Klavan is no stranger to either Christmas or Hanukkah, being Jewish by birth and upbringing, and having converted and been baptised a Christian in recent years. He described the pain and reward of that journey in his remarkable book The Great Good Thing, one of the few books for which I have ever bothered to write a review on Amazon.

Here however he is speaking not so much about religion but about being members of a minority group, conservatives in a leftist community. He’s an expert: he lives in Hollywood.

In his podcasts Klavan shows himself to be highly adept both on camera and microphone, and his skill with the written word is legendary, but none of that guarantees that he can handle a live audience. Let’s see …

He’s good, very good, but then I knew that. I’ve seen his ebullience and huge personality being poured into a camera lens in his video podcasts. His delivery to a live audience is very nearly as good. You’ll have spotted that I pulled up short of the absolute superlative, and I will return to that in due course.

He has paper on that lectern, but essentially it’s there as a backstop. He really refers to it only when he is quoting others, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do as you need not only to get the quote right but be seen to be doing so. The rest of the time he doesn’t need to follow his script because he has structured his material in a way that he (and we) can follow and remember.

Note how he has divided his message into chapters. Note how he then subdivides his chapters into smaller sections. Yes, the mystery of the ‘magic’ of speaking without notes comes down to details as simple as those. As so much of his hi-tec communication performances these days will depend upon AutoCue, I am pleased to see that he knows and still follows the strictures of horse-drawn public speaking.

Nevertheless there are subtle, almost indefinable, differences between speaking to an audience you can see and one you can’t. I’m referring to timing. For eight years I had a weekly radio programme, and then when I was speaking to live audiences I became conscious that I was occasionally mistiming things slightly.

Mistiming is most apparent when you are playing for a laugh. You don’t need to be an expert to know when you got it wrong.  It’s when the market refuses to buy: the laugh doesn’t come. You get that information only with a live audience, but it can be a shock to the confidence because you begin to wonder whether you are getting it wrong also with the invisible audience on the radio whose response you can’t gauge.

For my part I find him flawlessly laugh-out-loud in his podcasts, though it took me a bit of time to tune in to his wavelength. On the other hand though he harvests some stunningly good laughs there are just a couple of moments here in this speech when the laugh gears don’t quite engage. He’s a pro so he covers it superbly; but if I were advising him I would urge him to speak to live audiences a little more regularly in order to keep the timing instincts exercised, not least because he obviously revels in his live audience. I think I would also suggest that he lean a teeny bit more towards throw-away, as opposed to overt, humour. (As I have said a few times on this blog, I get this picky only with the best; and when they are the best why the hell should they pay attention to me anyway?)

I would also get him to insist on a beaker for his water. That bloody bottle drove me insane!

 

Ben Sasse educates

Through September, the clamour surrounding the confirmation of the proposed appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has spiralled to alarming proportions. Yesterday, 27 September, saw Judge Kavanaugh deliver an impassioned, emotional, and defiant defence of himself, his record and his character; though for sheer drama that was challenged by Senator Lindsey Graham who tore into what he saw as a disgusting conspiracy by certain parties. It is perfectly possible that Judge Kavanaugh’s and Senator Graham’s speeches will find their way onto this blog, but for now I’d like to turn to a quieter more reasoned time.

At the beginning of September lawmakers delivered opening statements to the confirmation hearing. Senator Ben Sasse was one of them, and he gave a brilliant speech.

For this Brit, with little more than a sketchy understanding of the workings of the US legislature, this speech is an education. For one thing it seems to explain the creation of what President Trump calls “the swamp”. But it is much more than that, as it also has huge resonances to what ails the political tides in Britain.

When he says “The legislature is impotent: the legislature is weak, and most people here want their jobs more than they want to do legislative work so they punt most of the work to the next branch” I find myself thinking that the British legislature does exactly the same thing, in fact disgracefully punted most of it overseas whence the British people are desperately trying to claw it back.

Sasse strongly advocates restricting responsibility for legislature to the hands of those who can be kicked out of office when they get it wrong. He is referring to SCOTUS being a lifetime appointment for a Justice, but you get no prizes for guessing what I am thinking. Nevertheless let’s stick with Sasse (who, incidentally, later explains even more clearly why politicians punt decision-making away). He says that the judiciary’s having become such a political hot potato stems from the elected politicians’ having failed to do their job properly.

There’s a potent moment for me, a student of audiences, at 0:32. The split screen allows us simultaneously to watch Sasse and the focal point of the audience – Kavanaugh himself. The latter has been listening intently, but now picks up a pen to make notes.

What I think is significant about Kavanaugh throughout this speech is not just the intensity of his concentration, but the dispassion. His frowns convey concentration not disagreement. At no point does his expression display an opinion on what is said. The exception is when Sasse slips in a provocative joke, and Kavanaugh permits himself a smile.

Just before his summary, and beginning at 9:39, Sasse delivers a very strong anaphora – “this is why …”, and then the summary heads unswervingly towards his final two sentences.

“It seems to me that Judge Kavanaugh is ready to do his job. The question for us is whether we’re ready to do our job.”

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.

 

 

 

 

Evan Sayet says it

A friend tweeted a link to an article entitled He Fights, published in Townhall. The columnist was Evan Sayet. I commend the article.

Even when I disagree with expressed opinions I am always impressed when writers or speakers have the guts to skewer or bypass the fashionable flim-flam in which PC pieties clothe themselves, to go right to the core of a matter with ruthless muscularity. Evan Sayet takes no prisoners. Immediately I went looking for examples of his speaking, and found plenty. Here is perhaps the most recently posted. It was delivered only in August, at a picnic in Los Angeles hosted by The American Freedom Alliance.

I don’t know the precise circumstances of this speech, even his introduction by Karen Siegemund is cut short on this video, but clearly from the venue, his clothing, and the relaxed way he interacts with his audience this is a very informal gathering. My instinct is that his material is a series of road-tested modules which he is stitching together on the hoof. To many rookie speakers that would be magic: to one who has worked his apprenticeship it is actually not very difficult. I may be wrong, he may have spent many hours preparing it: when you are this good everything looks easy.

Be careful though, for anyone who is not this good it could be a pathway to disaster. Many months ago on this blog I gave a severe kicking to a British politician whose speech to a gathering in Dublin was a disgrace. He insulted his audience by having been too bloody idle to prepare at all.

I see little point in my telling you what Sayet says when he says it so well for himself. Nevertheless I would advise any British reader here, even if you don’t follow American politics his message translates very clearly indeed to the circumstances this side of the Atlantic.

 

 

 

Trey Gowdy doesn’t need a speaker’s platform.

In April 2012 the U.S. House Oversight Committee held a hearing to look into what appears to have been egregious waste by the General Services Administration [GSA]. Quite late in the process, Trey Gowdy delivered his own summary of what had been going on.

We have met Gowdy before on this blog. The previous time he was delivering a formal speech to students, and I described him as a speaking phenomenon. Here he is not on a speaking platform but essentially delivering an impromptu monologue, and my opinion of his speaking ability has – if anything – increased. I have said before on this blog that passion is worth buckets of technique, and the dream ticket is to have both. Here Gowdy is displaying passion, and conveying it with consummate skill. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the tongue when wielded by a such master is still mightier.

The background to this issue is very clearly laid out here. It’s a relatively short read, and a good way to understand what has caused Gowdy to be so exercised. This matter concerns not my country, but I find myself easily transposing the circumstances across the Atlantic, seeing parallels, and getting likewise exercised.

The above clip begins with forty seconds of  Gowdy putting questions to Brian Miller, The GSA Inspector General, and then Gowdy sets off.

Immediately we get the gist. He is comparing the difference between spending our own money and dipping our paws into a bottomless fund, fed by coercive tax. Most of us could make quite a reasonable fist of that; but not many when talking of a charitable gift (beginning at 1:00) would come up with,

I hate that you robbed yourself of the satisfaction of knowing what it feels like to do it yourself instead of spending someone else’s money to do it.

The amazing thing is that in this monologue that isn’t particularly exceptional. Every time he makes a point he finds a new, different, and particularly telling way of couching it. At 2:25 he even dips into the Book of Exodus to compare the GSA’s profligacy unfavourably with the Children of Israel in the desert, and the parallel is flawless.

He swings into an auxesis at 4:00 with anaphora on the words, “what’s the penalty…”, but when he comes to his actual peroration he doesn’t keep the crescendo going, but suddenly drops into bitter contempt.

Yes, I know that as a District Attorney he will have examined and cross-examined witnesses countless times, and addressed juries as often, and his skill has been honed in the process, but this is mind-blowingly effective.

Since this occasion, and in fact since he was last on this blog, Trey Gowdy has been appointed Chairman of the House Oversight Committee. What a sound choice!

 

Trump at the U.N.

On 19 September President Trump addressed the United Nations General Assembly. I have seen the speech described with the word ‘hate’. That word has become a catch-all for any opinion ‘with which I disagree’; in fact, disastrously, that almost amounts to a legal definition these days. Therefore like most who actually bother to think I invariably dismiss the term until and unless I have examined the matter in hand.

For example, we were all regaled with how Trump had threatened “to totally destroy North Korea”. There’s an inflammable headline for you! Having now watched the whole speech several times I can bear witness to the accuracy of the quote, just as I can point out how misleading it is without the qualification that preceded it, “if [USA] is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but…”

Here is the whole speech.

I have no appetite for picking through all his points. There’s more than 40 minutes of speech in which he did that for himself, and you here have the opportunity to form your own opinion. Therefore I shall limit myself to my own speciality interest, the preparation and delivery of the speech itself.

I like his “Welcome to New York” opening. It’s a velvet glove covering an iron fist that says “your building: my town”.

As representing the USA, it is fitting and traditional that he gives a very potted summary of the state of his nation, on the one hand a country battered by hurricanes and on the other a country resolutely and successfully climbing out of economic doldrums. He doesn’t waste the opportunity to point out that the economic turnaround began with his accession. The Dow Jones had been rising for a time before he entered the Oval Office; but it has accelerated since, along with growth and employment. Crime and food-stamp usage have travelled in the opposite direction.

He is much beloved of triads, and I don’t mean oriental crime syndicates. They are scattered all over this speech. “Peace, sovereignty, and prosperity”, “strong, independent, and free”, and so on. They are everywhere, and the commonest ingredient seems to be “sovereignty”. I was put in mind of my own triad in this blog posting almost exactly a year ago where I pointed out that in eight years the previous administration had seen the U.S. become “less free, less safe, and less prosperous”.

At 02:55 I am impressed with Trump’s presence of mind when he switches between TelePrompter screens, misreads a word and seamlessly corrects himself. Later it happens again, and then again. It goes on happening, always the same type of misreading. With my trainees, whenever asked, I tell them how skilled are operators of this sort of equipment, always holding station with the speaker. I think we can safely assume that the United Nations, and/or the White House, have the most skilled of all, yet it seems here that repeatedly Trump’s screens get just behind him. I hesitate to add to the huge heap of conspiracy-theory-rumours that surround this presidency, but I sense a slight odour of the subtlest of sabotage coming off this. Completely unprovable and, probably by anyone other than a saddo like me, unnoticed.

He commits that most widespread of all the diction errors: swallowing the ends of words. He shares this mistake with some of the best speakers in the business, Hannan and Obama to name but two, and there have been others castigated for it on this blog.  I thought you might want evidence of Trump doing it, so I confidently clicked straight to about the middle of the speech and within seconds had an example. At 21:50 he says, “We must deny the terrorists safe haven…” The second syllable of that last word is virtually inaudible.

My having just mentioned Obama, I feel that you might be expecting a comparison between the two presidents’ speaking abilities. This could be a battle of cliché metaphors, but here goes. Trump is no longer the bull in a china shop that he used to be, but he remains a bit of a blunt instrument. Obama is supremely elegant – a fencing master. None of those metaphors answers the question though, because perhaps the prime purpose of a speech is to be memorable. Quote me a sentence from an Obama speech – just one.

Hasn’t it gone quiet!

If I asked you to quote from this speech you’d probably shout, “totally destroy North Korea” but this speech would be cheating because it’s so recent; therefore try Trump’s inaugural speech. Do you remember “Buy American, hire American”?  – or “You will never be ignored again”? If so, Trump wins.

And I bet you never expected me to say that.