Saturday, March 25, 2017

Where to Hear and Read Outstanding Speeches

One of the best ways to become a better speaker is to study great speeches of the past. To help out, several websites have collected and published excellent speeches. AmericanRhetoric.com has texts of hundreds and hundreds of American public speeches, mostly speeches about  public issues. A highlight is the list of 100 top American 20th-century speeches, selected by Stephen Lucas and Martin Medhurst. Video and audio recordings are linked when available. There is also a companion book.

Gifts of Speech, hosted by Sweet Briar College, is an excellent resource that collects women's speeches. This website is just one more reason to hope that Sweet Briar continues to operate as a great American institution.

Those of us who enjoy ancient history can read translations of Demosthenes' outstanding speeches. N.B.: if you think today's politicians are nasty, you should read Demosthenes!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mr. Rogers and the Arts: "What Do You Do with the Mad You Feel?"

In 1969, Fred Rogers ("Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood") spoke briefly to a congressional committee about how important it is for our nation to fund the arts. He commented:

"And this is what -- This is what I give. I give an expression of care every day to each child, to help him realize that he is unique. I end the program by saying, 'You've made this day a special day, by just your being you. There's no person in the whole world like you, and I like you, just the way you are.' And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health."

Continuing, he quoted his song, "What Do You Do with the Mad You Feel?" The song concludes: 

"I can stop when I want to. Can stop when I wish. Can stop, stop, stop anytime....And what a good feeling to feel like this! And know that the feeling is really mine. Know that there's something deep inside that helps us become what we can. For a girl can be someday a lady, and a boy can be someday a man."

Good advice for anyone, is it not? Maybe today's politicians and political commentators could learn a lesson from Mr. Rogers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Speakers Need Research: The Case of Mr. Trump and British Intelligence

NY Public Library, Photo by David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
I usually tell my public speaking students to have at least four good-quality sources for every speech. I also advise them that, when they speak about public issues of any kind, they need to get their news from more than one source. One of my students suggested that I should talk about this in a blog post, and this seems like the perfect week to do it.

President Donald Trump recently tweeted that former President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. This has been widely denied, leading President Trump to take a different tack and claim that former President Obama actually had the British intelligence services wiretap or surveil him, citing a report by Fox commentator Andrew Napolitano. In turn, Napolitano's main source may have been a report from the Russian news agency RT. Not a very reliable research base. A minor international incident resulted.

Well, other people are being pretty hard on President Trump about this, and I don't mean to pile on. However, there is a lesson here. When you are talking about something important, like, for example, United States-Great Britain relations, get your information from multiple sources. There are several reasons for this.
  1. For one thing, a single source might just be wrong. People are fallible, and we all make mistakes. If you only rely on one source, it's possible that source could be wrong.
  2. Also, individual sources often have motives other than the truth. A speaker might want to shock others. A TV announcer might simply be looking for ratings. 
  3. Even worse, people sometimes lie. When you only rely on one source, there's a chance that you could be deceived.
  4. It is important not only to look at different sources, but to look at sources that do not depend on one another. If three different news sources simply repeat something they saw on RT news, they are not really giving you independent opinions. Whenever possible, find sources that  do not duplicate one another. You are more likely to learn the truth. 
Aristotle once said the truth is more powerful than error. In the short run, false but convincing statements can sway public opinion. We all know that truth can be hard to find. In the long run, however, Aristotle was right. Truth is ultimately more persuasive than error. Speakers also have an ethical obligation to speak the truth. To speak the truth, you need to know the truth. A speaker is more likely to know the truth if the speech is based on multiple, independent sources of information.

So, research is good. 

On a tangential note, readers might want to look at my earlier post about conspiracy speeches.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Tim Cook & Company at a Developers' Conference

I just ran into a series of speeches led by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the June 13, 2016 keynote event at the Worldwide Developer Conference. Apple runs this conference every year. Cook and a group of developers presented enthusiastic talks about the latest software developments relevant to Apple products. Cook began his presentation, after remembering the terrible Orlando shootings, and reminded the audience that Apple welcomes people from all backgrounds, viewpoints, and ethnicities.

Cook then turned to the conference itself, praising the "really big and jam-pack morning plan for you." He praised the community of software developers: "the developer community has never been more vibrant. . . . This is truly a worldwide conference. We have people here from over 74 countries." He reminded the audience that Apple had awarded 350 scholarships for developers: "These guys are incredible. If you see them, make sure that you congratulate them."

This was excellent public speaking technique. Wasting no time, Cook praised the attendees, reminded them why their work was important, and pointed out how important the conference would be. It is important for speaker to orient to the audience, and Cook accomplished this effectively.

Cook then reviewed much of the development of software for Apple products. He discussed the App store's growth from 500 apps to more than 2 million. He gave specific examples of Apple's success, including the Macintosh computer, the iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV. He concluded his opening remarks by saying that "now we offer you four incredible platforms that power these world-changing product experiences." He then called on a series of developers to discuss software for each of those platforms.

At that point, Apple vice president Kevin Lynch offered several specifics about the speed and versatility of the Apple Watch, giving specific examples of its features that would appeal to software developers. Here's one of his examples:

"Let’s take a look at an example. This is watchOS 2 and we’re going to look at an app called Onefootball. We’re going to launch it from a complication in the bottom left. We’re going to see how long it takes. So here we are, launching the app, takes a few seconds to launch, and then once it launches, it loads some data and it updates, there we go. So that is pretty typical example of watchOS 2."

 That is an excellent way for a speaker to present an example. Lynch started with a quick transition, stated what the example was about, and showed how the product worked. He then went to the general point about the Apple Watch operating system. Quick, to the point, and very clear.

Apple's Stacey Lysik talk some more about the Apple Watch. She gave examples of some of her favorite apps for the product. Among the other presentations was an interesting talk Jay Blahnik, who focused on Apple's contributions to health and fitness. Craig Federighi gave a live demonstration of Siri's capabilities, actually conversing with the imaginary digital assistant in front of the audience.

These are just a few of the presentations given at the opening ceremony.

Conclusions to draw:


1. Software development often seems like the loneliest profession, in which extremely intelligent people sit alone at their computer developing software. In real life, however, conferences are absolutely vital to their profession. 

2. The presentations at this conference were short, crisp, and enthusiastic.They gave lots of details about the products. They wasted very little time, with the speaker getting to the point very quickly. The speeches were extremely enthusiastic and uniformly positive.

3. The speeches were extemporaneous.  What this means is that the speakers were well prepared, but they did not write their speeches out, memorize them, read them from the manuscript. They had a lot to say, but they preserved the atmosphere of conversing with their audiences rather than preaching to them.

Business speech is absolutely vital to the success of world commerce. No matter how much work one does in private, there is no substitute for going to conferences, meeting the famous people in your profession, hearing what they have to say, and making your own contributions during your own presentations. I always encourage my students to find out what the important conferences are in their field and to attend them. The University of South Carolina Aiken, where I teach, makes public speaking and conference opportunities available to students right on campus. I'll talk more about that in a few weeks. If you can't communicate, you might as well not be show up at all.

Caveat: I am not endorsing Apple products one way or the other. I only own one Apple product and it isn't charged up at the moment.

PS: Lynch was also very effective as he introduced each speaker. I'll publish a post about speeches of introduction in due course.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hillary Clinton's New York Speech about Women and Girls: Values, Policy, Public Life

Hillary Clinton, DOS photo
Hillary Clinton spoke in New York on March 7, 2017 at the "2017 Girls Inc. New York" luncheon. She gave this speech as she re-emerged into public life after her loss in the 2016 election. This was a ceremonial speech and, like most good ceremonial speakers, Clinton talked about values and implied policies. In Aristotle's book The Art of Rhetoric, ceremonial speeches aim at the question of praise and blame. Who deserves praise? Who deserves blame? What kinds of things are praiseworthy? What kinds of things are blameworthy? Ceremonial rhetoric is often called by the Greek phrase epideictic rhetoric.

As Chaïm Perelman and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca point out in their important book, Traité de l'argumentation: la nouvelle rhétorique (The New Rhetoric in English translation), epideictic rhetoric also reaches out to questions of value. When we talk about what is praiseworthy, we express our values. If a speaker praises George Washington for his patriotism, the speaker implies that patriotism is good and that it is a value that people should hold and believe.

We can take this a step farther and use epideictic rhetoric to advocate a policy. If patriotism is
US Flags on Porch, USA.gov
good, then we should adopt patriotic policies. If it is bad to lack patriotism, then a speaker might attack an unpatriotic person, urging the audience to reject the unpatriotic person's policies. If, for example, a speaker castigates the traitor Benedict Arnold, the speaker also opposes the policy of rebellion.

Let's look at what Clinton said on March 7. She commented on perseverance: "[It's] the inner strength, even the stubbornness to keep showing up every day, to refuse to quit or give up in the face of any setback." That is a praiseworthy value. This led her to speak for the "full participation of women and girls." That is a policy. She carried the policy a step farther: "We have to form our own chorus, twice as loud, convincing our friends, our colleagues, ourselves that women are both smart enough and good enough to be considered for anything they choose to pursue."

So, the chain is this: the speaker praises an individual or group. In this case, Clinton praised women. The praise leads the speaker to advocate a value. The value implies that we should work to carry out the values. This is quite different from what Aristotle called deliberative speech, where the speaker would try to prove that a policy is advantageous. In many cases, epideictic speeches can be much more persuasive than deliberative speeches.

A long line of scholars has looked at these matters. I'll mention a few. Gerard Hauser wrote an important article in 1999 about Aristotle and "The Formation of Public Morality." Cindy Koenig Richards wrote about "Public Women and the Transformative Potential of Epideictic Rhetoric." My article about the Amarna Letters shows how ancient writers used praise to urge the King of Egypt to send troops to support them. I've written about epideictic rhetoric during the 1896 presidential campaign, for example here and here.

Here are some of my earlier blog posts about epideictic rhetoric:

Monday, March 6, 2017

Free Speech on Campus? It Happened Again!

This really needs to stop.

Charles Murray, a controversial libertarian scholar, was heckled off the stage at Middlebury College. The moderator, a liberal professor who wanted to encourage dialogue, was physically attacked. The protestors stopped Murray from speaking, but they also cast discredit on themselves and on other liberals. Shame on them. Also, their protest was counter-productive, in that they gave more publicity to Murray's controversial opinions.

Middlebury College, via Wikimedia
The country thrives when people hear multiple political opinions. The way to discourage a speaker's wrong opinions is to give a better speech refuting those opinions. That, and not heckling or violence, is the academic way to deal with the opinions that you do not like. Disruption and violence prevent dialogue. Furthermore, when people like Murray express their opinions openly, this gives audiences a chance to hear what they actually say. If reasonable people want to disagree with Murray, they must first know what he actually believes. As it is, reasonable persons only heard that Murray was not allowed to speak.

By the way, I recently read Murray's book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. The book is controversial. Murray's opinions are similarly controversial, and some of his conclusions strike me as outrageous non sequiturs. All the same, he has a lot to say on many subjects. He offers substantial research to support his opinions. His work is worth learning about. Shouting him down does not refute his ideas. Actually, I plan to cite Coming Apart, as well as other sources giving different perspectives about American culture, in a book that I am writing this spring.

There is no need to shelter college students from controversial opinions. It is healthy for college students to be exposed to multiple views, including views that other students think are extreme. Let everyone be heard.

By the way, good for Middlebury College! They gave their students a chance to hear an important scholar explain unpopular opinions. It's too bad that there were people in the crowd who didn't want to hear.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trump's Speech to Congress: Presidential Ethos, or Faulty Logos?

When Donald Trump spoke to Congress on March 1, 2017, he made an obvious attempt to appear more presidential than in his earlier public statements. What this means is that he attempted to sound dignified, to avoid name-calling, and to express a policy agenda. He did all of those things quite well, although this speech suffered from significant factual inaccuracies.

Rhetorical scholars going back to Aristotle distinguished three ways that a speaker can persuade an audience: by logos, which refers to the speaker's evidence and reasoning, by pathos, that is, the speaker's emotional appeals, and finally, by ethos, which is the appeal to personal credibility. Aristotle suggested that ethos was the most powerful of these three, and modern scientific research seems to confirm this. The most important factor in whether a speaker is believed is simply whether the speaker is believable. At the same time, Aristotle also wrote as if logos was the most important kind of persuasive appeal. By using examples and reasoning, Aristotle said, speakers can present the audience with arguments in favor of the speaker's conclusions.

Donald Trump, WH photo
So, listening to Trump's speech, one would notice right away that Trump refrained from the personal attacks and conspiracy theories that marked many of his campaign speeches. He spoke in an enthusiastic but reasonable style, and stuck to the script fairly well. He spoke with excellent vocal variety and gestured in his usual habitual but reasonably effective manner. Since many people apparently expected Trump's speech to be an unreasonable diatribe, he clearly exceeded expectations and presented himself before the United States Congress as a plausible leader. All of this represents ethos.

At the same time, Trump's speech failed the most elementary fact-checking.The Pulitzer Prize-winning website Politifact.com found numerous factual errors in Trump's speech. For example, they found that he grossly overestimated the amount of money that the United States has spent on Middle Eastern wars. He falsely claimed that his recommended increase in defense spending would be the largest ever. Similarly, FactCheck.org, published by the Annenberg School of Communication, found that Trump "distorted the facts on jobs, immigration, health insurance, or spending and more." A speech whose arguments are built upon falsehoods can never be considered logically sound. Incorrect information is an unreliable basis for making decisions, and a speech that is full of inaccurate information does not give the audience good reasons to believe points that the speaker is making.

So, was this a good speech? In the sense that Trump exceeded expectations, which were, all things considered, not very high, he probably improved his own credibility. After this speech, it became easier to see him as presidential. His presidential style and appearance probably made many of his points more believable. Did he prove the points that he was making? He certainly did not. In that sense, the speech cannot be considered a model of rhetorical excellence.

Furthermore, there is evidence that attitude change supported by information is longer-lasting and more powerful than attitude change supported only by credibility appeals. This is the same dilemma that Aristotle discussed in his work about rhetoric. On the one hand, credibility or ethos is a powerful persuasive tool. On the other hand, ethical speakers make an effort to get the facts right. Was his speech believable? Maybe so. Did he give his millions of listeners good reasons to believe the points that he was making? Probably not. That doesn't mean that his ideas were necessarily wrong, simply that the sloppy information that he presented did not prove them.