Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bad Public Speaking

I just walked out of a speech.  I did not walk out of the speech because I disagreed with the speaker.  I think that she is a decent writer and thinker and agree with what she says.  I walked out because the speaker was fundamentally incompetent at verbal communication, so unpracticed and unprepared as to be rude to every member of the audience.  It was, simply, an utter waste of my time, and so frustrating that I could not stand any more of it.  The speech was like watching a nervous incompetent freshman try to give an unpracticed talk in a public speaking class.  And she probably would have failed, even with a generous teacher.  It was that bad.

Her speech was full of vocalized pauses, with at least one long loud 'um' every two sentences.  She would constantly veer off on tangents.  There was almost no structure to the talk at all.  It was incredibly bad at conveying information.  The speech would have been far, far superior if she had simply opened one of her articles and read from it in a dry boring monotone.  I learned more in one or two minutes of reading her work than I did in the entirety of the talk, up to the point when I left.

I know that someone paid a lot of money to bring her here to talk.  The money was completely wasted.  I don't care how good her books are, how many good articles she has written, how smart she is, how good her reputation is, or how many people like her.  She was a horrifically bad speaker, so bad that she probably turned people away from her ideas by conflating them with time-wasting incompetence.

I do not mind people who have no natural talent at speaking, if they put some effort into practicing a speech and avoiding basic errors.  And it does not take much effort.  Public speaking is one of those skills that is very easy to improve.  Obviously it is really hard to be a superstar, but it takes only a small amount of time and effort to achieve minimal competence.  If you want to be a public intellectual, then you must do this.  If you are going to go around giving talks, you must at least bring your public speaking skills to the level of the median college professor.  That is not a high standard.  Failing to meet it is simply rude, and marks you as someone who should never be invited to speak. 

1 comment:

Lou said...

Wow; no beating around the bush! Dad