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the 80th annual 'rhetty's'


In these dire times for the quality of public utterances by politicians, and those supposedly informed enough to comment upon them, hope has all but been abandoned for this year's 80th Annual Rhett Butler Rhetorical Excess Without Control Awards.

However, the Daily Mail's Henry Deedes does deserve a brief  'Mention in Dispatches' for his inspired description of the scene surrounding Speaker Bercow in the Commons, following the first tied vote in the House since 1993:

“The Speaker's Chair was like a scene from a Caravaggio canvas."

The evocative, and instantly conspiratorial, name of Caravaggio immediately drew me in - whetting my appetite for further delightful similes and metaphors.

After all, Deedes' predecessor as Sketch Writer at the Mail, Quentin Letts, was the winner of the 79th ‘Rhetty’, and Deedes was obviously up for the challenge of matching Letts’ extensive use of metaphorical and allegorical flourishes.

Unfortunately, the similes that followed were neither as inspired or inventive:

"The government backbenches now resemble a Wild West Saloon"

"With Mrs. May due to meet Mr. Corbyn later that afternoon, Labour's Dear Leader chose to ignore Brexit and focus on poverty. The pair grappled non committedly in the manner of two ageing prize fighters holding out for a draw."

"Grumbles emanated from behind her.  ERG corner was as lively as bingo night in a nursing home."

While these comments were not without truth, they were, to my taste, a little too comedic for the seriousness of the situation.

The trite and flippant metaphors in his last paragraph, however:

"At the end of a lengthy session, the PM trotted off for her lengthy pow-wow with the Leader of the Opposition. Hardly a barrel of laughs, one suspects.  But a country picnic compared to her next meeting with her party."

left me feeling decidedly unsatisfied and yearning for sketch writing’s glory days.

I turned in my frustration to The Times, in the hope that the mighty and all conquering Quentin Letts would clarify my thinking on the matter, and hopefully raise my spirits a little.

Sadly there was but one telling, solitary simile/come-metaphor therein …

and a dark one at that:

"The prime minister, as we must still call her, performed as in a vacuum, a vessel devoid of matter." 

Letts had indeed clarified my thinking:

The Sketch Writers Are Still Big …

it's the politics that got small!


(Mark is co-founder of - you can follow him on LinkedIn using the button below)

the 79th annual 'rhetty's' trilogy


Competition for this highly desired award has already begun. 

Staking his claim, in royal fashion, Viscount Matthew Ridley's glorious tirade in the House of Lords has set a standard that will be difficult to equal in the year ahead. 

Invoking both Shakespeare and Marlowe, his description of the House of Lords as a "gilded crimson echo-chamber of Remain" was a masterstroke. He followed this immediately with the best "Bonnie Prince Charlie" metaphor in recorded history: 

"This neo-Jacobite hold-out for the Euro-King across the water."

With steely determination, his rapid machine-gun fire delivered an antiquated alliteration that was no less wounding for that:

"The public will say, 'How dare that unelected panoply of panjandrums and pampered popinjays think they know better' "

Lurching from unashamed pathos to apparent logos, he used paradox to deadly effect:

"I look around the chamber.... I see people pretending to worry about democracy while trying to undermine it, pretending to want the best for the country while talking down Britain."

Perhaps unwisely, the Chief Judge of this prestigious award, Sir Aristotle Smythe-Tarkington-Butler, said last night: 

"While I am a staunch Remainer, it is impossible not to feel proud that you are British when you hear rhetorical excess of this quality"

It is worth remembering that the award itself originates from a clever chiasmus uttered by Rhett Butler:

"The cause of living in the past is dying in front of us"

The beauty of this observation is that it is a chiasmus for all seasons.

In the present season, the country anxiously waits, to observe which particular part of its past will perish...



'Groundbreaking Chiasmus Finally Redresses Class And Cultural Imbalance'


It is a time honoured rhetorical convention that any sentence involving the words:

'You can take the ………. out of the ………. but you can't take the ………. out of the ..........' 

is a put down, usually at the expense of those not generally considered part of the 'cultural elite'. 

For example:

‘You can take the boy out of the valleys, but you can't take the valleys out of the boy'


In a bold and, as far as we know, unprecedented egalitarian gesture, the Mail's 'Ephraim

Hardcastle' Column has just broken the 'Glass Floor' of this convention, with it's acerbic reference

to former Guardian Editor, Alan Rusbridger.


He is currently the Principal of Oxford's Lady Margaret Hall, 

which has just appointed a Transgender Officer, prompting the comment: 

"You can take the boy out of the Guardian, but you can't take the Guardian out of the boy"


Sir Aristotle Smythe-Tarkington-Butler, 

Chief Judge of the prestigious 'Rhetty' Awards Ceremony, 

said today:

"Before accepting this as a bona fide entry in this year's competition, we are urgently trying to establish if this is a politically correct comment” 

”It is best to be cautious" he added,

“As while you can take the correctness out of politics, 

you can never take the politics out of correctness."


It is easy to see how Sir Aristotle attained his present elevated position, 

when one can only marvel at his facility to coin, so casually, 

what is probably the most timely and relevant chiasmus of the year, 

if not the decade.




With a bravura demonstration of the extended use of metaphorical language, in a parable of our times, Mail Columnist Quentin Letts has gloriously snatched the rhetorical and allegorical high ground, from the usual political suspects, to win this year's 'Rhett Butler Rhetorical Excess Without Control Award'.



Have you ever had trouble persuading a dog to release its bone?  Not easy, is it?  At first, you play nice, asking Rover to surrender his prize, but this is met with snarls.

When the softly-softly approach fails, you try alternatives - mild reprimands, distraction tactics, simmering exasperation - but these only result in worse truculence from the dog.  Eventually your patience snaps.

You wrench the juicy marrow bone from those clenched teeth and throw the treat into distant bushes.

A happy day has ended in messy aggro and you vow never again to indulge the growling, ill-tempered mutt.

Much the same is happening at present with our ruling class.

In recent days, we have seen, in Westminster and Whitehall, some appalling behaviour from the pampered pets of our political Establishment.

For years, they have gnawed on the bone that was the post-war liberal, Brussels-centred consensus.  How delicious it was for the people at the top.  Chomp chomp chomp.

Two years ago, they were told in the EU referendum - by their masters, the British people - to surrender that bone.  They have no intention of complying with such an order.

 And so they are growling and snapping and holding tight with increasingly bared fangs.


(thirty two column inches later…)


... so I plead with our truculent and selfish elite to surrender their bone and do as they have been commanded.



Obviously deeply moved, and subconsciously taking his lead from Quentin's canine-inspired analogy, Chief Judge for this prestigious Award - Sir Aristotle Smythe-Tarkington-Butler - said:

"With cynomorphic tenacity and dogged determination, Letts has certainly unleashed his inner cur.  Determined to hound his prey, come what may, the muzzle was clearly off, and the claws visibly out - a kill was inevitable”

While no longer a young pup, Letts has always been a pure bred with a fine rhetorical pedigree, ever able to separate himself from the rest of the pack.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that this year's Judges were unanimous in their decision to award him 'Best of Show’… uh… we mean ‘Outright Winner of The 79th Annual Rhett Butler Rhetorical Excess Without Control Award' !!

(Editor's Note: This may well be Sir Aristotle's last year as Chief Judge)



(Mark is co-founder of - you can follow him on LinkedIn using the button below)


futility of fools gold.png

The Purpose Of Rhetoric


True Rhetoric teaches us to speak copiously and fluently on any subject, not merely with propriety, but with all the advantages of force and eloquence; wisely contriving to captivate the hearer by dint of argument and beauty of expression, whether it be to entreat, exhort, admonish, or applaud.


Of all the Seven Liberal Arts and Sciences, history has undoubtedly chosen Rhetoric for its most ambivalent and often abusive treatment.  However, the sins of the past pale into insignificance when compared with the current abysmal standard and state of political public speaking.


In an era of ubiquitous political correctness, it is more than ironic that the correctness of political rhetoric has reached an all time low. We need furnish no evidence of this truth, it surrounds us in every shape and form.


We know the usual suspects, they never fail to disappoint and we are heartily fatigued by them.


So how can lovers of rhetoric sustain themselves in this barren, eloquence-free environment?

We have only two alternatives: to look back to better times, or continue to work in order to ensure that the good times may yet return.  In fact, these options should go hand in hand for, as far as rhetoric is concerned, it is not reinvention that is required, but rediscovery.


Ted Sorensen on President Kennedy's Inaugural Address 1961

'Long a student of history, and with a clear sense of his own place in it, he wanted his first speech as president to fit the moment - to be eloquent, shorter than most, using elevated language to summon the American people to the challenges, sacrifices and discipline that he knew lay ahead.'
Max Freedman on President Kennedy's Inaugural Address 1961

'Mr Kennedy himself, in an address of solemn dedication exalted by the pageantry of great phrasing, greeted the challenge of the unknown future by declaring that he would never shrink from responsibility and would always welcome it.  Rarely has the anthem of courage been sounded so resonantly or so bravely in recent years.'




'Fight the good Fight' - A more prosaic but still valuable present-day example
Here's Quentin Letts comparing one Parliamentary speaker with another, from the same party, on the same subject…
Speaker 1:
’He proceeded to give a long, impossibly intricate presentation which would have been suited only to a court of law... Parliamentary oratory should be different. Its very democratic nature means you can not… be so forensic. You have normally 20 minutes in which to sell yourself… Show some flair! The democratic imperative here is to distil a position to something that can be widely understood.'
Speaker 2:
'It was about a fifth as long and five times more immediate, delivered with vocal variations, burning eyes and greater directness.'





Rather than disparaging the 'Rhetoric' in the customary manner beloved of most journalists and commentators, (which, if anything has encouraged the race to the bottom that now characterises almost all political speakers) Letts here provides the sort of useful analysis that is necessary in order to ensure that political public speaking is fit for purpose.


This is the only approach that can outlast the present era of ‘Fool’s Rhetoric’ i.e. rhetoric that is either too bland or too bombastic, with neither beauty nor propriety.


(originally published on




(Mark is co-founder of - you can follow him on LinkedIn using the button below)





From whose Speech was this title phrase taken? Theresa May? Donald Trump?


Let's see more of the Speech to help you identify the speaker…


"It may be that our future may lay upon us more than one stern test.  Our past will have taught us how to meet it unshaken. For the present, the work to which we are all equally bound is to arrive at a reasoned tranquillity within our borders; to regain prosperity without self-seeking; and to carry with us those whom the burden of years has disheartened or overborne."


What are the clues? 


  • Serious tests to come but past successes to learn from

  • The need for a shared and steely resolve

  • Sensible steps required to ensure peace and safety within our borders

  • A return to prosperity without pandering to the greed of a selfish few

  • The uplifting of the downtrodden and disillusioned


Yes, these views are very much 'on message' in both camps, and clearly these sentiments could have been expressed by either leader. 


Let's consider the evidence:


Isn't there something presidential about the phrasing?


But then we are constantly being told that Trump is not presidential and "overborne" doesn't quite fit in with his assumed basic vocabulary.


It must be May!


 But then isn't it just a little too oratorical for our plain speaking and non-emotive Prime Minister.


If not Trump or May, who can it be who has captured so successfully the zeitgeist of these two Populist movements and who has, no doubt, already angered and alienated those members of the 'Tweeterati' determined to oppose them to the bitter end?


Sorry!.. Who did you say?.. There must be some mistake!..


George V?..


you must be joking!?


Yes, horror of horrors, these words were spoken by George V and formed part of his 1932 Royal Christmas Message, the first ever to be broadcast on radio.


What trick is this? How could we have been so cruelly misled? Well, did the words used really justify such distaste and censure?


Of course not!  


There is little doubt that the 'Old King' (as he was fondly referred to at the time) delivered those lines with total equanimity and good will to all.


Yet in the horrendously polarised climate of today and in the absence of context, many would have construed them as some sort of unpardonable offence against humanity.


N.B.  Make no mistake, the reverse of this example (e.g. imagine a Speech voicing the well intentioned idealism of a committed globalist from the same time period as George V) would today generate the same negative response from Brexiteers and Trump supporters.


What has gone so wrong with our society that such innocuous words can appear to drip venom? 


Has the English language or human nature changed so much in only 85 years? 


Why is every reaction so disproportionate?  Why are impartiality and objectivity, in all forms of reporting, only noticeable by their absence?  Why do people no longer possess the ability to accept differences of opinion with some level of respect, tolerance and understanding? 


What ever happened to that most cherished of civil liberties, enshrined in that famous reworking of Voltaire's glorious sentiment:


"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it



(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below)

clark henderson's 'my morning trigger'

(brand-new-coffee-machine-fuelled ranting)

Monday 9th January 2017


Dear World-Grabbers,


For reasons I shall not discuss here, I awoke this morning happier than John McDonnell at an I.R.A. fundraiser.


Such joy was short-lived, however, for a brief perusal of emails quickly brought to my attention the following article: 

A Better Brexit For Young People

penned for the Huffington Post by one Jermain Jackman - singer, songwriter, winner of ‘The Voice’ (2014) and ‘political activist’ - an occupation synonymous with knowing next to nothing, yet demanding the utmost mainstream-media-level respect for, and coverage of, one’s ‘social justice’ excretions.


(Think Charlotte Church, Russell Brand, Lily Allen… and you have the measure of it)


I know, I know - to some of you it seems unfair of me to pounce so negatively upon Mr. Jackman at first sight of his ‘job description’ … and how dare I mention such national treasures, in your eyes, as the reverential Church, the ubiquitous Brand, and the delicate Lily, in so derogatory a fashion.


My excuse, to borrow the terminology of the day, is that Mr. Jackman’s opening salvo had ‘triggered’ me - and torn me asunder from the duvet-derived comfort of my bedroom’s ‘safe-space’. 


(As we are all now aware, in 2017, the safe-space is sacrosanct, and one must receive ample warning of impending triggers wherever one traverses in the material and virtual worlds, as recommended and enforced by our nation’s most revered seats of learning)


And so it is that I am compelled to make like a spider and web my outrage.


For you see, Mr. Jackman had not forewarned me of the persuasive power of such elegant statements as:


young people especially will live with the outcome of Brexit by far the longest




we have formed coalition with some of the most leading youth organisations in the UK to ensure that our voices are not left behind


(I had my voice left behind once… wouldn't recommend it)


Furthermore, Mr. Jackman’s call to arms appears predicated on the devastating results of a ‘Sky Data Poll’ 


(Ad: have you received unwanted large-n data from a Sky Data Poll? You could be owed compensation. Call now on 1-800 TRIGGERED)


The results of said-poll make for emotional reading:


While 71% of under-30s were certain they would vote on 23 June, this compares with 75% of 31-50 year olds, 81% of 51-60 year olds and 84% of the over-65s.”


As I write this, I’m still not sure whether Mr. Jackman is suggesting 71% of under-30s did vote, were certain they would vote, or even knew what voting was.


The nature of the poll itself appears to have focused on age groups and voting intentions - which tells us little about the actual manner in which these poll-compliant members of the great unwashed eventually did or did not vote on the 23rd June.


Fortunately, before it became necessary to block the words ‘poll’, ‘Brexit’ and ‘political activist’ from ever appearing on my laptop again, I suddenly remembered my Homer (Simpson):


Let my armies be the rocks and the trees and the …


no, wait, that’s my Charlemagne…


Homer Simpson’s Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics 101:


NEWS ANCHOR: ‘Mr. Simpson, how do you respond to the charges that petty vandalism such as graffiti is down eighty percent, while heavy sack beatings are up a shocking nine hundred percent?


HOMER SIMPSON: ‘You can come up with statistics to prove anything… Forty percent of all people know that.


Twas then I turned in bed and thanked my imaginary friend in the sky more from the heart, perhaps, than any other living man, that I no longer accurately qualify in the ‘youth’ category of 21st Century demographics. 


The sense of en masse victimhood espoused and, to some degree, celebrated by many of the West’s young people is a wholly tiresome affair. While there is of course nothing new under the sun (I draw your attention to Mark Roberts’ clever commentary on Post-Truth in this forum below for an analysis of this point) - the age of social media has undeniably worsened the negative effects of social collectivism when paired with a relentlessly inaccurate, digitally reinforced, Z-list celebrity-driven narrative of disenfranchisement and under-representation. 


For now - I’ll leave the in-depth academic analyses of all that to Cristina or Michael here at Twelfth Peer. 


In the coming weeks, you will no doubt find me petal-picking once again at the fledgling, failing flower that constitutes our next generation and its political leanings - so please consider this first instalment of ‘My Morning Trigger’ a mere introductory placeholder for now. 


As for my morning, spent reading the most leading, doomed to live with the outcome of Brexit by far the longest, young but with his voice behind him Mr. Jackman - his writing style reminds me of another great Homer Simpson quote, on which I shall close this maiden instalment of ‘My Morning Trigger’:


English - who needs that? I’m never going to England


Inexplicably yours,




Mr. Henderson can no longer be tracked to any fixed inter-abode of his own. He thanks you for your interest, though.

posting the truth on post-truth


In May of this year, Jonathon Freedland of the Guardian wrote:


"In this era of post-truth politics, an unhesitating liar can be king"


In hindsight, he was arguably ahead of the curve. However, I wondered at the time (indeed, as still I wonder) precisely which narrow, untypical periods of history he must have studied so exclusively as to have convinced himself that this was somehow a new phenomenon.


I wondered, also, how he could be so oblivious to the three persuasive appeals of Classical Rhetoric:


Logos - Logic

Pathos - Emotion

and Ethos

- which I have discussed in previous commentaries.


The Oxford English Dictionary considers the term ‘Post-Truth’ to denote circumstances in which facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief…   


Pathos - by any other name…


The OED’s ‘sexing up’ of the term has certainly lent legitimacy to the burgeoning cottage industry that now debates the origins and applications of this 'brand new’, albeit 'age old’, phenomenon.


However, I was much taken by a remark of that expert and very entertaining analyst of all things American, Dr James D Boys, in his latest ' Arguendo' interview for Twelfth Peer Productions:


"It used to be the case that people were entitled to their opinions and what has emerged of late is the belief that people are entitled to their own facts”


To me, this perceptive insight goes further than any in explaining the 'Perfect Storm' surrounding 'Post Truth’ - a widespread belief that 'things ain't what they used to be’.


As ever, these fears are unwarranted, for it was ever so.


Take a look at this classic extract from William Pitt's Speech on the Slave Trade in the House of Commons, 1792:


'If we reflect at all on this subject, we must see that every necessary evil supposes that some other and greater evil would be incurred, were it removed.  I therefore desire to ask:  What can be that greater evil which can be stated to overbalance the one in question?  I know of no evil that ever existed, nor can imagine any evil to exist, worse than the tearing of eighty thousand persons annually from their native land, by a combination of the most civilised nations in the most enlightened quarter of the globe - but more especially by the nation which calls herself the most free and the most happy of them all' 


To the many British slave owners facing financial ruin, this Speech would have seemed proof that times were changing, and the 'Post Verum' age, as they might have called it, was upon them.


The ‘true’ facts, to them, dictated that the very future of their civilisation depended upon the continuation of slavery, just as the Greeks and Romans had depended upon it many centuries before them.


In actuality, all Pitt did, like any orator before or since, was to use a combination of apparent logic, blatant emotion and, in this case, the perceived ethos of his country. 


It was not a ‘true’ fact that the slave trade had to come to an end, it was a humanitarian outcry demanding to make it so.


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below)

trump's game-show diplomacy

As he prepared to leave the White House in January 1953, Harry Truman noted that his successor, General Eisenhower, would ‘sit here, and he’ll say, ‘Do this! Do that!’ And nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the Army. He’ll find it very frustrating.’ Indeed, the presidency of the United States, as Eisenhower quickly discovered, is not at all like the army. Neither is it like a game show, despite the very best efforts of President-Elect Trump to prove otherwise. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his own jaundiced approach to diplomacy, an area in which the president elect lacks even a scintilla of experience.

In recent days Mr Trump has been busy playing footsy with the world via his ever present Twitter account about potential cabinet appointments. In his latest act of diplomatic naivety, Mr Trump has now urged that Mr Farage be appointed UK ambassador to the United States. Meeting with Mr Farage and his entourage in New York shortly after his election exposed Mr Trump to accusations of breaching protocol. This latest move betrays his utter lack of diplomatic comprehension and serves only to unnecessarily complicate what could have been a relatively harmonious relationship with Downing Street.  

This unprecedented public call to influence the appointment of Great Britain’s senior representative to the United States reveals the president elect’s lack of adherence to protocol or of any sensitivity as to how diplomacy operates. The appointment of an ambassador is simply not a task that is dictated by a foreign leader, eager to have his sycophantic lackeys close by.  

10 Downing Street, unsurprisingly, has reacted negatively to Mr Trump’s suggestion. The ensuing war of words with Mr Farage, however, risks damaging UK national interests, and weakening the position of the British government in Washington, D.C., which will doubtless continue to be represented by Ambassador Darroch for several years to come. His position, however, has far from been aided by this un-diplomatic and unwarranted intervention.

The role of the British ambassador to the United States is to represent the interests of the United Kingdom, not merely to toady up to the latest occupant of the White House, something that both Mr Trump and Mr Farage appear to have overlooked. Despite their ego-centric approach to international affairs, the Special Relationship is dependent on neither Mr Trump, nor on Mr Farage. Its foundations in the political, cultural, military and intelligence communities have ensured that it has endured bad times before and thrived in eras of trans-Atlantic harmony. Believing that it relies on the relationship between national leaders is misleading, as is the faith in the apparently mystical powers afforded the British ambassador in Washington, be that Mr Farage or anyone else.  

Rather than seeking to dictate ambassadorial appointments, Mr Trump may be better advised to focus upon his campaign pledge to bring jobs back to the United States and to ‘make America great again.’ Bereft of any specific plan to achieve this, he now pledges to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement in his first hours in office.

As president, Mr Trump has every right to seek to negotiate international agreements from the best point of view of the United States. However, he will find that his approach, of demanding that the United States ‘wins’ all such negotiations, goes down badly overseas, where leaders will not wish to be perceived as having ‘lost.’ Long used to being able to have his way in the cut-throat world of New York real estate, Mr Trump is in for a shock when he discovers what Joseph Nye warned of many years ago: the United States may be the world’s sole super-power, but it simply can’t go-it-alone any more. Mr Trump’s various business interests reveal he is no isolationist, but he may well prove to be a protectionist. If so, he threatens to be an anachronistic president, dreaming of a time when the United States could dictate global policy when it was stronger economically than the rest of the world combined. Those days are now a distant memory.

In 1938, as he prepared to depart for London as US Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Joe Kennedy was warned that he was set to engage in a world for which he was singularly unprepared, and in which he risked being hurt as never before. The warning quickly proved prophetic. Now, almost 80 years later, as Donald Trump prepares to move into the White House that ultimately eluded Ambassador Kennedy, he may be about to receive an equally rude awakening in the world of international diplomacy when he discovers that politics, both national and international, is the art of the possible, not the art of the deal.


dr. james d. boys

Richmond University

Author of Clinton’s Grand Strategy


 BREAKING: Unexpected victor in u.s. presidential election!


There was an unexpected victor in this week's U.S. Presidential Election - and its name began with the letter 'D'.


Yes, you've guessed it… albeit out of left field… 



(from the Latin, 'right and proper', a principle of classical rhetoric, referring to the use of a speaking style that is appropriate to the subject, the situation and the audience) 


In common parlance - behaviour in keeping with good taste and propriety.


What a welcome visitor to the Presidential Election Victory Feast it was, after the incredibly rude and divisive campaigns that preceded it.


We waited cautiously for the President Elect's Acceptance Speech, following his convincing victory...


Which of Trump's personas would greet us? This one - Humble, gracious, magnanimous, conciliatory, co-operative and inclusive.


We waited very patiently for Secretary Clinton's Concession Speech, following her conclusive defeat...


Which of Hillary's personas would greet us?  This one - Humble, gracious, magnanimous, conciliatory, co-operative and inclusive.


We waited briefly for President Obama's pronouncement, following the ‘legacy-destroying' outcome of the Election...


Which of Obama's personas would greet us?  This one - Humble, gracious, magnanimous, conciliatory, co-operative and inclusive.


Yes, the unexpected victor of the day was Decorum, which, if observed correctly, renders all subjective comparisons of motivation, sincerity and perceived ethos superfluous.


As a non-political commentator focused on the approach and quality of Public Speaking in this election:


May God bless the United States of Decorum!


Competition Time:

This week's Award for the best use of 'Understatement for Rhetorical Effect' must go to the Buchan Observer for its headline...



(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below)


Knowing my exasperation with the current surfeit of self-serving Speeches dominating the national and international stage, a kind colleague sent me this rare curiosity of a Speech in order to pique my interest. It certainly has!


While no Gettysburg Address, it is not without its fascination.  It is a 'rhetorical' time capsule that, despite its grim purpose, evokes the spirit of optimism about humanity that seemed to permeate its era.


From a modern perspective it may seem a little high flown but, of course, had the Speech been delivered in earnest at the time, it would have had a similar, if not greater impact, than Ronald Reagan's eloquent 'Challenger Disaster Speech.'


Speeches arising from tragic events inevitably possess poignancy. Everyone accepts that they will naturally contain unfettered rhetorical flourishes - designed to console those in grief, and to uplift the prevailing spirit at a time of sadness.


However such pointed acceptance of the vital, valid role that rhetoric plays in powerful, effective communication is certainly not universally applied. 'The Rhetoric Conspiracy', as I call it, extends through every form of media today, so that lazy journalists and commentators cannot resist the temptation to trot out their

'It was full of rhetoric', 'It was the same old rhetoric' 'It was the rhetoric we have heard time and time again'

summation of speeches.


They may just as well say that, as ever, the speeches were 'full of words'. 

We already know that speeches are full of words. We know that rhetoric is the art of delivering these words in the most persuasive manner possible. Must we be continually exposed to such repetition of the obvious, as though we are being provided with original, useful and informative insight into what has been said!?


Imagine a Music critic: 'Yes, another piece full of music... the same old music we've heard time and time again'. Or likewise an Art critic: 'it was the same old Art'... 

Effective? Insightful? Of course not! We want to know what, if anything, is of worth in the music, the painting, the Speech.


Is it not time to end the absurd conspiracy against rhetoric?

Donald Trump will use rhetoric. Hillary Clinton will use rhetoric. Acknowledging such usage does not contribute to our understanding of their Speeches' content!


This week's 'Stop Rhetorical Misuse, Abuse & Hypocrisy' Awards

 (with no criticism of the Labour Party intended on my part)


In 3rd place: Mark Littlewood of The Institute of Economic Affairs, who said:

'John McDonnell's speech today was the epitome of fantasy economics'


In 2nd place: Simon Walker of The Institute of Directors, who said:

'The Shadow Chancellor played a few good notes but the overall tone was concerning for business'


In 1st place: Quentin Letts of The Daily Mail, who said:

'Mr. McDonnell's blandly written speech delivered without elan, created rapture in the hall. For 20 years they had put up with Blairites peddling centrist compromises.  Here was an authentically mirthless Marxist promising to wipe out private ownership'


Congratulations to all three winners!

What a joy it is to read rhetoric about rhetoric without the word rhetoric being used at all!


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below) 


There has been precious little during the Summer recess to excite the interest of lovers of good Public Speaking.

However, a seemingly unremarkable August article in the Radio Times, regarding a Poll for the Top Forty Radio Voices of 2016, did provide valuable food for thought.

Conventional wisdom tells us that charismatic speaking voices are the product of genetics, geography, personality and unique experience.

This misperception encourages anyone lacking this fortuitous blend of formative factors to readily accept that they will never possess the sort of voice that can captivate and enchant an audience.

If we think in terms of quirky accents and eccentric speech patterns, then we are right to assume that we must never attempt to emulate them.

However, the upside is that accents and patterns are merely window dressing. 

The true product to refine is one’s ability to make the sound of what is being said an echo of the sense of what is being said.

This is where the Radio Times article becomes highly relevant. Here are the forty key vocal qualities variously attributed to the radio personalities:-

attractive    authoritative    bubbly    buoyant    calming    classless    clear    comforting    commanding    concise    direct distinctive    eloquent    energised    engaged    enticing    forthright    friendly    fun    gentle when needed    glowing    honeyed    infectious    informed    lively    lyrical    mischievous    powerful    reassuring    rich    silky smooth    smart    soothing    switched on    trustworthy    unforgettable    uplifting    warm    welcoming    witty

The remarkable thing about this list (apart from the rarity of it being an up-to-date inventory of vocal qualities still held in high regard by the general public), is the fact that none of these qualities are beyond the range of any competent public speaker.

While the radio personalities concerned may indeed possess some unique vocal selling points, what they are essentially credited with here is their ability to communicate humanity with authenticity.

By varying their tone appropriately, they communicate humanity in all its various shades and hues, and insinuate their personalities upon us - literally 'per sonitum' - through sound.

I have often wondered what enables monotonous speakers to convince themselves that they are suited to public speaking.

I am confident that if this list were to be read aloud by a member of the audience (in the manner of 'The Riot Act') prior to each monotonous speaker’s engagement, the error of the latter’s ways would soon become apparent.


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below) 

ethos is not a moveable feast

It has not been a good time to extract pearls of Public Speaking wisdom from the unedifying and self obsessed Speeches that abound at present.

However, given that my recent piece on Boris Johnson's May Brexit Speech ended with a prescient reminder of the importance of 'Preparation! Preparation! Preparation!' I was heartened to read MP Kwasi Kwarteng's comments (The Mail on Sunday 3/7/16) on Michael Gove's 'spur of the moment', 'I'm the man for the job' Speech.

Kwarteng stated:

 'Michael gave a good speech, which was an eloquent, well crafted and well delivered manifesto for his leadership'

'We all know Michael is clever, but to write a 5,000 word speech, rehearse and deliver it word perfect in the space of 36 hours is quite some achievement'

Leaving aside the obvious implication of this last statement, it is refreshing to find a politician, in this case Kwarteng, who so openly acknowledges the amount of preparation required to ensure effective delivery.

This is a truth that is not widely appreciated, and many who seek Public Speaking Training are genuinely surprised that there are no shortcuts to a high quality delivery. (Although there are numerous 'snake oil salesmen' who will happily encourage them in this misconception)

Another Public Speaking truth, and one that is far from universally understood, is the interdependency of the three rhetorical appeals of ethos, logic and emotion.

Sadly, logic is of the least importance. Emotion is the key, but only if the Speaker's ethos matches the rhetoric.

In this sense, ethos should be paramount, but in our current political climate, we have seen so many ethos 'shape shifters' that even this 'gold standard' has fallen to an all time low.

There is a lesson here for all aspiring Public Speakers. Ethos is not something you get from the pick and mix, it is who you are and what you convey to others. Any appeals to logic or emotion must be underpinned by genuine belief and total integrity, or they will carry no validity or resonance with your audience.

As we can see from countless politicians across the spectrum at the moment, you ignore this truth at your peril!


'Ethos is not a moveable feast'



(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below) 

"With malice toWARD none, WITH charity for all" - the legacy of jo cox in future political discourse

It had been my earnest intention to refrain from commenting on any more European Referendum Speeches, out of respect for Jo Cox.

The consensus seemed to be that the politicians would be 'nicer' for a short period of time, and then go back to their 'nasty' ways.

The Jo Cox effect on political Public Speaking, (for, as I always make clear, my interest lies solely in the quality of Public Speaking) would be short-lived, and the bear-baiting and cock-fighting of British politics would return, red in tooth and claw.

The commentators and critics would return to describing any sentiment that they disagreed with as 'Rhetoric' (horror of horrors), as if those who propounded sentiments that they were completely in agreement with could express them in anything other than that same 'Rhetorical' form.

However, the distant but fond recollection of an iconic quotation, from no less a figure than Abraham Lincoln, has prompted me to enter the Referendum fray for a final time. The quote I am referring to is of course: 

with malice toward none, with charity for all

which was a sentiment he expressed in his Second Inaugural Address.

This is without any doubt, a genuinely high-minded sentiment, clearly indicative of an enlightened pattern of thought. I immediately realised that this quotation had not entered my mind in a random fashion.

It was undoubtedly a product of the Jo Cox effect, for while the soundbite line that Jo could 'disagree without being disagreeable' had washed comfortingly over me, I had completely failed to appreciate that what she did so effectively, and seemingly effortlessly, was of a far more profound nature than that.

She had the ethos of a totally genuine and compassionate person, who could communicate her beliefs with ample logic and passion, but with no rancour whatsoever.  This is what had subconsciously brought the Lincoln quote to my mind.

No one would have damned Lincoln with the faint praise that he could disagree without being disagreeable.  He had great aspirations for his country, in particular, and mankind in general, and the manner in which he could communicate these aspirations inspired millions.

In her own way, Jo possessed a similarly inspirational quality, and was fully able to communicate her aspirational hopes for others, with malice to none and charity for all. It is to her eternal credit that she was ready, willing and able to do so.

The antithesis of this is, of course, Stephen Kinnock's line during his misguided tribute to Jo, when he said, 'When insecurity, fear and anger are used to light a fuse, an explosion is inevitable.'

This inexact, ill-conceived and incendiary metaphor is full of rancour, and is clearly intended to generate more heat - the very thing he is supposed to be railing against.  As a vague generality it serves no valid purpose whatsoever, and could equally be applied to his own camp.

It certainly had no place in a tribute to Jo Cox, and failed abysmally to pass what I will hereon refer to in my Coaching as the 'Jo Cox Absence Of Malice Test'

This ideal, of effectively communicating political thoughts without malice, must now be brought permanently to the political podium and lectern, or the age of the demagogue will most assuredly return.


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below) 



Twelfth Peer Productions is delighted to see the work of our in-house photographer Diana on the June cover of artsbeat magazine.

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If British politicians think that they can get away with recycling 'old rope' in their speeches, then there is always one commentator who will happily re-use that rope to great effect.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts is a past master at analysing the content and delivery of political speeches.

In his piece on Gordon Brown's call to arms for the Remain camp, he was decidedly unimpressed:

'Beware the rambler, Ancient Mariner Gordon Brown'

he began, and continued in this vein: 

'He repeatedly wriggled out of ... questions'

'There was high flown stuff ...'   'He reached for a vaunting tone ...'   'This was threaded with personal, comic anecdotes of an after dinner tone.  The juxtaposition was most peculiar ...'   'He was also excessively garrulous...'

'He also reproduced the old John Kennedy line 'ask not what your country can do for you ...'   'Was this a referendum speech for a troubled Remain Campaign or was it snatches of some stump speech for Corporate dinners?'

Quentin was equally disparaging about David Miliband's 'Remain' Speech in April, but the main thrust of his criticism here concerned delivery:  

'There was little spark. The eyes did not shine. There was sparse connection with the throng'

'The rest of the speech was jaw achingly, pulverisingly dull. He spoke slowly, lacking animation, verve, variety in pace and volume. The vocabulary was more wonkish than 'passionate' and the delivery was drearily glottal stoppy'

In short, as the title of the piece clearly stated: 

'Miliband senior still fails to connect'

My purpose in drawing attention to Letts' critiques is in no way politically motivated. While these are certainly negative comments as far as both figures are concerned, I am more interested in their value as constructive pointers for any aspiring public speakers.

Failing to hone and polish relevant, topical content, and failing to deliver that content in as effective and appealing a manner as possible, are the two cardinal sins of public speaking. I can think of no better self-checking device for any speaker, than to imagine what Quentin Letts would write about them, and to revise accordingly.

Henry Kissinger was notoriously in the habit of asking his speechwriters if what they had handed him was the best they could do (Even before he had read it!) 

Good speakers will ask themselves that question at least once prior to any speaking occasion.

Great speakers will ask themselves that question interminably.


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below) 

OUR RESIDENT public-speaking EXPERT AnalysES Boris Johnson's 'BREXIT' Speech on 9th May, 2016


I was recently asked for my opinion on Boris Johnson's 'Vote leave' Speech in May and, having only seen his rendition of 'Ode to Joy' at the time, I naturally began with a full transcript of his words.

Knowing that he is an expert on Rhetoric (in the Classical sense), but that his performance often belies that expertise, as he chooses to adopt the persona of the lovable clown, I approached the transcript with an open mind.

Unsurprised by a handful of colourful similes and metaphors, his occasional use of tricolons and anaphora, and his allusions to 'sunlit meadows', 'slaughter on Flanders' Fields' and 'We few, we happy few', I became increasingly impressed by his carefully reasoned argument. It appeared to embrace a far wider scope of relevant issues, and to deal with them in a more profound manner than has been in evidence in the debate to date.

I therefore approached viewing his delivery of the Speech with genuine enthusiasm, as I imagined him bringing it to passionate life, while obviously retaining his strong sense of humour and love of the absurd.

Sadly my enthusiasm was in no way justified. I observed a speaker who exhibited many of the failings that we in the field of Public Speaking Coaching take pride in sympathetically correcting.

While occasionally unsure of his words, he was consistent in providing poor eye contact to his audience throughout his Speech. While an undoubted expert in paper shuffling and gratuitous hand gestures, he seemed to have no ability to alter the tone of his voice in tune with the variety of sentiments he was expressing.

In short, he appeared amateurish and uninspiring in his delivery and, on the only really humorous part of his Speech, the 'Ode to Joy' moment, he completely failed to turn it to any advantage, even comedic.

Am I a critic of Boris? Far from it, but it just goes to prove (with no apologies to Tony Blair who, contrary to popular belief, did not invent epizeuxis or even alliteration) ... 

Preparation! Preparation! Preparation!


(Mark is founder of 'The Lighthouse Method of Public Speaking'. Join him on LinkedIn using the button below)