Charlie Kirk and obscure words

On February 28 at the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, there were speeches from some notable American Conservatives, including the President. One was by Charlie Kirk, Founder and Executive Director of Turning Point USA.

Another organisation has, in the past few days, declared Turning Point to be extremist. Knowing a little of that other organisation that could be regarded as a badge of honour, and I am interested to learn what Kirk has to say.

I wish he weren’t carrying that sheaf of paper when he enters. He barely looks at it through the speech so he doesn’t need it. If he had entered empty handed it would have done wonders for his initial impact.

The opening minute is a little messy, which is not unusual among those who have yet to learn the secret, but at 01:13 he’s into the driving seat. The opening salvo concerns how the left is unable to debate, having no case to argue, so expends all its energies in cancelling debates and no-platforming people. That is why students are politically crippled.

Though he may not know the words (why should he?) he loves anaphora, epistrophe, and symploce (you might want to have my Glossary page ready); and he uses them very powerfully.

At 02:58 he launches into epistrophe – “…you do not mean well” – which morphs into symploce – “If you wanna … you do not mean well”. It goes on and on, powered by a steady auxesis and culminates in ecstatic applause. Another epistrophe-cum-symploce begins at 05:17. A huge anaphora appears at 06:35, with a massive nine elements. Another anaphora kicks off at 07:56, though with just a paltry four elements. At 10:54 his peroration begins with a three-element anaphora.

When someone like me analyses a speech down to a bunch of obscure rhetorical terms, you might expect that speech to be talking-by-numbers and therefore dull. But Cicero and other ancients only coined these terms because they swayed audiences. Kirk’s audience is in the palm of his proverbial.

The boy’s not bad.

Harold Pinter (1930 – 2008)

In 2005 the late playwright, Harold Pinter, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Being too ill with oesophageal cancer to make the journey to the awards ceremony in Stockholm, and in lieu of the acceptance speech that would involve, he recorded the following piece to camera.

The title of his address is Art, Truth & Politics.

It doesn’t surprise me that he is using autocue. This was fourteen years ago, when speaking without notes was even more of a rarity that it is now.  It surprises me even less after he has explained how he writes. No one to whom producing words is so exacting and painful willingly speaks spontaneously.

For example at 02:10 he begins an epistrophe of such weight as to be tinged with purple. Passages like that are never spontaneous.

It isn’t unusual for authors to protest that their invented characters develop minds of their own, but Pinter takes this claim much further. He tells us almost that his creations invade his consciousness unbidden, and I fight the urge to write him off as pretentious beyond sufferance. I am stayed by the memory of a friend, a BBC drama director, assuring me almost 50 years ago that posterity would celebrate Pinter as the finest dramatist of his age. Today, though he undoubtedly still has his admirers, Pinter productions don’t exactly abound; nevertheless there should be plenty of posterity still to come.

The opening segment, with Art occupying centre stage, always has Truth flitting around the edges as a bit player but he brings Truth in general – and Truth in Politics in particular – to the fore at 09:45, segueing from The Birthday Party to Abu Ghraib

Thus begins a furious half-hour diatribe against George W Bush and US aggression, with Tony Blair and Britain cast as the obedient poodle. He is angry!

Eventually, at 43:15 he returns to the matter for which he earned his Nobel Prize – his literature. He recites his own poem, Death.

Requiescat in pace

Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools

Trump and Brexit, Brexit and Trump, it is almost spooky how these two polarising disruptions have shadowed each other on either side of the Atlantic. Feelings on both run frighteningly high, and for me it has meant that speeches delivered about one of them almost always have had resonances towards the other.

Tucker Carlson, Fox News talk-show host, has published a book called Ship of Fools which attempts to answer why USA unexpectedly elected Donald Trump. I haven’t yet got around to reading it, though I want to. Here he is, promoting the book at a talk hosted by the Independent Institute in Alameda, California, in October 2018.

The introduction by David J. Theroux, President of the Institute, raises reactions from the audience that leave us in no doubt that Carlson will be addressing a friendly audience. That is worth noting because California’s political climate has moved so overwhelmingly left that these people almost qualify as a persecuted minority. Carlson comes to the microphone at 05:40, the speech finishes at 36:06, and the Q&A that follows is worth watching also.

He is very skilled, very audience friendly, qualities that are not necessarily a ‘given’ with a TV personality. He comes across as relaxed, friendly, funny, and shoots the speech from the hip.

But the skill doesn’t end there, he neatly melds his warm greeting of the audience with reminiscences of growing up in California (he now lives in Washington DC). He throws in references to places, using their local nicknames. In the process he piles up good ethos, leaving them feeling that this famous man who comes into their homes everyday via the TV is definitely one of them. All his humour, and there’s lots of it, is thrown away – even to the extent of his appearing to try to suppress laughs and thereby actually stoke them. I don’t want to paint him cynical because though he’s good he has me convinced he’s sincere.

The narrative is brilliant, he sweeps you along.

As for the transatlantic parallels concerning the way our countries have been moving, I invite my fellow brits to listen to his summary of US education at 17:17, and cast their minds back a couple of weeks to the school pupils’ “strike”. I put that in quotes because of the number of teachers that seemed to be leading the march through London, and seemed quite comfortable with the appalling things being chanted.

Likewise his account, beginning at 29:50 of the Republican Party official who said that if Trump got nominated he’d see that they took it away, has pretty strong resonances with a referendum in the UK which everyone in the elite from the Prime Minister downwards said would be respected, till it came to it; and as of now from the Prime Minister downwards are busting a gut to find a way to stop it or steer it towards something else with a ‘withdrawal agreement’ that is all about agreement and not about withdrawal.

What Carlson is talking about is the cavernous disconnect between The People and their political representatives (and the mainstream media). The US has it: the UK has it. The US has an Orange Man who has made astonishingly good progress (about which the media remain very quiet). The UK should be on the brink of greatly increased freedom, but not if the elite can help it.

I think that is what Tucker Carlson’s Ship of Fools is about, which is why I want to read it.

Monica Crowley and freedom.

In May 2014, fairly early in the recent Presidential election campaign, Oconomowoc in Wisconsin was the venue for a speech by Monica Crowley.

About eighteen months ago I hugely enjoyed a short season of seeking out and critiquing some ballsy speeches by American women who had the ability and courage to speak their minds. How on earth did I miss Monica Crowley?

A bald opening!  I love bald openings. When I recommend to my trainees that they give them a try, I am very often met with incredulity. This is because people assume that waffling through a period of largely meaningless preamble is a good way to smooth your way in. I counter with pointing out that creeping slowly down the steps into a cold swimming pool seems like a good way to smooth your way in, but isn’t.

One ingredient in many preambles is an audience schmooze. Crowley understands its value, but instead of opening with it before the audience has fully settled she holds it back for half a minute, primes them a little and then hits them. You may find it icky, you may roll your eyes, but you’re not in that audience. She has timed and tailored it specifically to that audience, they love it, and she knew they would. We’re watching a pro at work.

The move from the schmooze to the serious business is seamless. You can’t see the join, but you can hear how suddenly the audience has gone quiet. She’s got them where she wants them and they are listening. She’s good!

Some of her message is tough, but she contrives never to sound tough. Brimful of conviction, strong on facts and logic, but always approachable not tough.

It’s an impressive speech. She has sincerity and passion, and she knows how to use both to put the moral case for freedom.

 

 

 

 

Trey Gowdy is a speaking phenomenon.

Although English, I idly follow some of the political circus in the USA – not least in order to see what interesting speeches have been delivered. Thus I found myself one day a couple of weeks ago with the name, Trey Gowdy, coming at me from more than one direction. One minute he was tipped to succeed James Comey as Director of the FBI, the next he was going to succeed Jason Chaffetz as Chairman of The United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. As I write both possibilities seem to remain open, neither yet being dismissed or confirmed.

[Subsequently, on 9 June, it was announced that Gowdy was to be the new Chairman of The United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform]

I wondered whether there might perchance be a speech on line whereby I could learn more about him and how he performs.

How do you spell a hollow laugh? I instantly found myself swamped by Gowdy speeches, and every one a blinder. With respect to public speaking the man is a phenomenon. For the purposes of this posting I chose one wherein he is delivering a Convocation Speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Speaking at gatherings like this is notoriously difficult. You have not only the students, but also parents, teachers, and probably press. The audience is so varied that you have to decide where specifically you want to aim. When I receive cries for help on this I always reply that you should pitch at the section of the audience that you think has the shortest attention span.

Gowdy is aiming at the students and, if you want to know whether he has their attention, just focus on their silence. He engineers that by deploying arguments that are structured to be crystal clear, by using strong dramatic pauses which invite the audience to ponder on what he has just said, by periodically taking the volume of his voice down till they almost have to strain to hear. This is a beautifully skilled piece of speaking.

Were that all it was, it would fail to get that silence. What underpins the whole thing more than all those techniques is his transparent and passionate sincerity. I tell my trainees that passion is worth bucketfuls of technique, but the dream ticket is to have both. Gowdy has both.

One of the most important things I do for trainees is help them to play to their strength. First I need to identifying their strength. In the case of Gowdy it’s easy. When he tells stories the standard of the speech lifts from very high to even higher. Here his account of the plane crash in the Potomac River is the electrifying highlight. His lesson on persuasion is relatively clunky. The same goes for other speeches I’ve seen of his. He is an outstanding raconteur, and he has an excellent instinct for choosing the right story.

Regular readers of this blog will know that the better the speaker the pickier I get. I look at ‘clunky’ in that previous paragraph, and realise that Gowdy’s clunky is anyone else’s triumph.

Speaking of techniques, do you want to know how to emphasise a word subliminally? – causing the audience to absorb the emphasis without being conscious that you were emphasising? You simply pronounce all its syllables. Many words that we speak have syllables that we habitually swallow. ‘Habitually’ has 5 syllables, but we pronounce 3-and-a-bit. If you pronounce all five, you subliminally emphasise the word. Don’t make a song-and-dance of it, or it won’t be subliminal, just pronounce them. ‘Every’ is usually spoken with two syllables, though it has three. Now listen to Gowdy at 3:07 and again at 3:19 where he subliminally emphasises the word ‘every’ by pronouncing all three syllables. If you think that he always pronounces ‘every’ with three syllables, then listen at 13:33 when he doesn’t and keep listening through 13:45 when he does. He may consciously know the trick or it may be instinctive: I don’t know.

This is a wonderful speech. I wish it hadn’t been edited and pulled about by whoever posted it, but never mind: it’s wonderful.

So is this one, overflowing with passion.

So is this one, overflowing with prescience.

I could go on and on, adding to that list, but I don’t need to. Those links will take you to YouTube, and each one will have many other Gowdy speeches.  You may use up many hours, watching. I did, and regret none of them.

Tucker Carlson, by the way

On 6 March in Washington DC, Tucker Carlson addressed the International Association of Firefighters.

Situated as I am on the east side of the Atlantic, my relationship with the US media can most charitably be described as sporadic. Nevertheless, in the eternal hunt for speeches I do spend a lot of time on YouTube. So it was that Tucker Carlson crept his way into my consciousness some months ago. He wasn’t making speeches, but he was interviewing many of the speakers into whose background I was delving for the purpose of this blog.

He was interviewing remarkably well, and had a refreshing approach to heavily adversarial, hostile, interviewees. Rather than show anger he would most often deploy one or both of two facial expressions –

  • Little boy puzzled
  • Little boy laughing

He was exploiting his chubbily boyish face, which is highly personable, and making it a hell of a weapon. More importantly the boy could play: he unerringly asked the questions I happened to want asked, couched in the most reasonable terms.

I had vaguely wondered how he would fare on a speaking platform, so when I saw a speech from him on line I pounced.

We don’t see the opening, but come in halfway through a sentence. I understand that people want videos that hit the ground running, but with my niche interest I want to see the opening. Public speaking is like flying an aeroplane inasmuch as the most tricky parts are the takeoff and landing. The rest is relatively easy.

We join Carlson already in the air and climbing. The first words we hear are “By the way” and they herald one seriously attention-grabbing sentence. From there it goes on up. This is a phenomenal speech!

He produces nail after nail and hits each one squarely on the head. I won’t tell you how; I won’t tell you why; you just need to watch it. It answers many questions.

He has a verbal mannerism. I tell my trainees never to worry about mannerisms because if their speech is interesting enough no-one will notice. It just happens to be my job, so I notice. He says “By the way”. I haven’t counted how many times he says it in this speech because I’d rather have a life, but it’s a lot. If I hadn’t mentioned it you wouldn’t have noticed because the speech is spell-binding. It’s refreshing as spring water, coming from someone in the government/media bubble.  Nail-head-nail-head all the way through.

By the way, one of the reasons “By the way” comes out so much is that he has a neat line in micro-digressions. It’s almost as if they supply the mortar between the bricks of his theme.

Another neat line is in self-deprecation – not in an overt simpering way but in tiny, easily missable, almost subliminal throw-away lines. At 13:30 he throws open to questions. See if you pick up the nano-self-deprecation in his final sentence, and ask yourself whether you would have done without my drawing your attention to it.

He’s a very good speaker, and this is a hell of a good speech. Nail-head-nail-head. I’d still have liked to have seen his takeoff, by the way.

Theresa May be a Good thing.

On 17 January Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, delivered a speech which had been eagerly awaited by many. Since the people of the United Kingdom, on 23 June 2016, had decisively voted to leave the European Union the country had seemed to be stuck in limbo. For the benefit of non-British readers, allow me to outline the background.

Mrs May’s predecessor as Prime Minister, David Cameron, had called the Referendum. He had announced, in a highly publicised speech in January 2013, that he intended to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, and then put this expected new dispensation to the British people in a referendum during 2017. In 2015 there was a General Election in which this promise of an EU Referendum was a central plank of his campaign. He won the election, launched this renegotiation in a fanfare of trumpets while many of us marvelled at how radically he had watered down his promised demands, went off to Brussels, and came back with essentially nothing. The little he claimed to have been agreed was not remotely binding, and even that was disputed by many European politicians. He rushed into the referendum, rather earlier than originally promised, on a platform that we should vote to remain ruled by this ‘reformed’ regime. Nevertheless he undertook that in the event of the British people voting to leave he would immediately trigger Article 50, the EU exit door, and lead the exit negotiations.

The referendum took place, the people voted for Brexit, and Cameron immediately vanished. He simply welshed on all assurances and left everything for someone else to sort out. That someone turned out to be Mrs Theresa May. Her principal problem was that incredibly the British governing establishment had put no contingency plans in place against the vote going for Brexit, so she had to start from scratch. Thus for six months the country was in limbo, with several establishment figures openly attempting to thwart the expressed democratic will of the British people who in turn were supported by little more than periodic assurances from Mrs May and her cabinet that Article 50 would be triggered before the end of March.

This speech had been loudly heralded as a key piece of progress report.

An opening pause. Immediately I am encouraged.

This video, originally a live, streamed feed, occasionally shows live tweets commenting in a separate window. At 11:07 there is one which expresses the hope that the speech gets more interesting. I can understand this up to a point, because in laying out her stall Mrs May has needed to cover very many bases. I however am in possession of information not then available to that tweeter: there is half-an-hour still to come.

Do you have more than 40 minutes to listen to the whole thing? If not I can recommend two short excerpts that summarise effectively. This is so much better than my cherry-picking quotes. It’s safer too, because of being less susceptible to my confirmation bias.

Between 31:08 and 31:43 she very clearly summarises all that she has thus far covered. If you want to stick with it to 32:58 you will hear how she intends to keep her cards face-down,

 “because this is not a game, or a time for opposition for opposition’s sake.”

You may find that this satisfies your curiosity or that it excites your appetite to hear more. Either way, I whole-heartedly commend all this speech.

The other excerpt is her ending. I recommend that you pick it up at 38:55 with the words, “I don’t believe…” I have heard worse perorations, and didn’t care that it had no auxesis, because the content and the occasion did not call for it.

Only a few days later she delivered another big speech, this time in the USA. In it she was busy massaging the ego of a huge ally, but still I felt that she meant what she said. It is this quality that I like. Even if I don’t always agree with everything she says and stands for, I don’t feel embarrassed that she is representing my country. That speech did call for an auxesis to herald the peroration, and it got it. If you don’t listen to the whole thing you can pick up the peroration at 33:00.

Like or loathe her political position, she does not beat around its bush. More and more I sense that this woman is a WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get – and I find that hugely refreshing after the dismal succession of duplicitous twits that have been representing us for a quarter of a century. (The word ‘twits’ was a slight edit from the first word there.)

She makes me feel strangely optimistic.