The art of public speaking even if done well has one consistent overriding variable – there is no guarantee of success, even if the speaker has rode the metaphorical bicycle before. All speakers will fall at some point. This is inevitable. Not as inevitable as the sun appearing and disappearing. A consistency which can be likened to pest, you never know when they will appear, moving around the baseboard, from behind pictures, across the counter – shocking you as your guest pretends to have not seen.
A good speaker is the person who has seen the unseen; penetrating an undefined membrane, doing a free-fall into a form of purgatory, sometimes referred to a speaker’s hell by its members. They are the brave, survivors. Moving from one space to another, returning to the podium, after a compelled examination of his/her injuries, taking note of what he/she did wrong the last time; returning, now a bit reticent, forever leery, knowing, knowing, knowing what others do not.
Those who fail return thinking the fall was a dream. They never understood the wind at their backs was the proverbial, thank you very much, which was not a thank you very much. Thanking them for coming, when in fact the early, sporadic clapping was their encouragement for the speaker to finish; the collective sighs of relief, propelling the cyclist into an unanticipated world of false-satisfaction, never to know the real meaning of the uncomfortable laughter. The failed speaker is remains trapped in one of those “bless your heart” moment, never a good thing.
I muse to say public speaking is hard but not impossible. I believe the more apt-description of the art-form should be reduced to its absurdity (reductio ad absurdum): the slayer of fools.
Knowledge of the Subject Matter Helps and Don’t, Don’t Lie:
In other words couple the speech to the truth, even if it is only the speaker’s truth.When asked by the press what he thought of what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia after the death of Heather Heyer, he said: “There are good people of both sides.” There were immediate reactions to the tenor of the speech; some said he didn’t say what he said. This response was not good; there was a tape and everyone heard him say what he said. Others were repulsed. The press coverage revealed the presence of Nazis, right-wing hate groups and violent and repulsive acts leading up Ms. Heyer’s death.
A quick examination of his presentation reveals the speaker violated the number one principle, he obviously didn’t know his subject matter, and if he did, he elected to lie. The two sides were not equivalent, and were never equivalent.
Tell the Truth and Gauge the Mood of the Audience:
I repeat part of the initial principal because truth is fundamental to communicating. Sure, you can lie. I would go so far so say some have perfected the art-form of lying – however, in public speaking the better course is tell as much of the truth as possible to your audience. They – the audience – will appreciate you for being truthful, even if few agree with you. The second part of the principal essentially means – know the audience.
In his visit to the United Nations, his was an act of following tradition, and protocol. As the host country, and as our leader, the speech was expected, part of the social norm. He – said to be the most powerful man in the world – invited the rest of the world into his proverbial kingdom, it was his stage. He looked out into the audience – as his predecessors had done in the past – and told a flat out lie. Telling world leaders he had accomplished than any other president in U.S. history. They – the world leaders – looked left, right, at each other, before a spontaneous combustion occurred. The laughed; a flat out, uncontrollable Monty Python guffaw theirs was. The king indeed had no clothes.
Later he said they were laughing with him. They weren’t. We weren’t. No one was. His documented history of insulting the rest of the world, them, their heritage had become too much. He thought he was omnipotent and felt flat out lying was permitted. Those expected platitudes did not come; he stood at the podium confused. His was an example of falling of the proverbial bicycle, floating in space, not knowing whether he was dreaming or not. He has not yet moved to the realm of a despot, King, Supreme leader, which would have permitted him not to follow any of these rules of public speaking. They laughed at him, not with him.
Preparation … Preparation … Preparation:
We have all trudged this path before, where we didn’t prepare enough. Over confident in our skills; failing to set aside sufficient time to prepare; failing to anticipate, predict and worry (worry is required ingredient compelling the speaker to see the possible worst case scenarios). Not having a way into the speech and a way out; failing to communicate and talk to the audience; reading off a piece of paper and ignoring the verbal and non-verbal clues and cries of disdain. All of this is any speaker’s plight; standing in place before falling, because the speaker coupled his/her preparation with the belief that public speaking is an overrated. Just like riding a bicycle you say. It isn’t and never will be.
He looked out and laden his answer with a racist, nationalist, sexist twist. The reporter – she a Chinese American female – called him out on his racist, nationalist, sexist musings. He attempted to move away, quickly. He is not stupid. He knew he had been called out for his racist, nationalist and sexist behavior. He was a participant in a not this time moment. He pivoted quickly and called on another reporter – someone he had treated rudely before. Her treatment had a slightly different twist – it was a racist, sexist, bullying behavior. She didn’t dare save him. Her black skin reflected in the artificial light, while she deferred to the first speaker. He scowled at her defiance. His audience had seen him scowl before. No one was fearful, no one was deferential. No, no, not this time. He pivoted again, calling on a third speaker, who also just happened to be female. She too deferred to her Chinese American colleague, leaving him hanging. He had nowhere to go. He had nowhere else to pivot. He fled. His – the speaker’s – problem was a simple one: he thought saying the same thing over and over again meant it was true. Nowhere to go, not like the Wizard of Oz; he wasn’t Dorothy. He – we – none of us – will never be Dorothy. Clicking his heels three times would not bring him to another place and never convert his racist, sexism, nationalist musings to the truth. He did what bad speakers do. He did what lazy cowards do; he did the same act – over and over again – and failed to appreciate his audience’s intelligence; meaning they would eventually figure out how to address the hate. Fool me once; fool me twice…well you know.
The Story is Never Completed in Three-Acts, Perhaps Four: The Speaker Must Earnestly Invite the Audience to Visit the Confines of His/Her Mind. This is probably the most difficult part of any speech – the use of words, silence, anxiety, fear, happiness, body language and gestures to allow the listener to visit a place he/she never thought he/she/they would have an opportunity to visit. Oh, I know what the literature says, that public speaking in one of our greatest fears. This belief seems misplaced with the advent of social media. A camera in every hand – pointing here, there – into the face of the speaker and others; the proliferation of blogs, social media posts – all this compels me to believe the position is no longer a truism. Everyone now is an expert on multiple subjects: constitutional law, law enforcement, medicine, the First Amendment, rights, auto mechanics, repairing kitchen appliances. We are indeed a YouTube[ing], foolish-nation.
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I muse to say, the art of public speaking is not necessarily impossible. This art form is best understood when reduced to its most simplistic level – it is the art of sharing thoughts, ideas; listening, watching and interacting with the audience. We have all failed at this art, and will continue to fail – falling, falling, falling. To assume failure is out the questions will assure the speaker will fail.
Oh yeah – back to him, our dear leader – he is incapable of following any of the tenets of well prepared and executed public speech, no matter what he and his Complicitors say to the contrary; so be it. So, I muse.