Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Public Speaking

High on the list of things that scare most people is "speaking in front of an audience." For most of us, getting up in front of an audience, whether it's to give a formal speech, act in a play, or give a toast at a wedding, is the hardest thing we'll ever do. For myself, I don't mind speaking in front of an audience...I get some butterflies up front, but never find myself paralyzed with terror. If you're one of those who is afraid of public speaking, you might try joining a Toastmasters Club - they're everywhere, and I can tell you from personal experience that they're excellent.

The reason I bring all this up is a fascinating article in the current (September 2008) issue of The Atlantic Monthly Magazine titled Rhetorical Questions. In this article, author James Fallows looks at the rhetorical styles of Barack Obama and John McCain and assesses how the men's respective speaking styles reflect their personalities and suggest the ways they might govern. He compares their rhetorical styles to those of great presidential speakers of the past (Reagan, Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt) and predicts how the men will stack up against each other in the coming presidential debate season. Briefly, Mr Fallows assesses that Senator Obama is a master of the set-piece speech, and shines in a setting that allows him to stand behind a podium and deliver already-prepared remarks. Senator McCain, on the other hand, is a much better impromptu speaker and excels in smaller, more intimate town-hall-type settings. Looking at these strengths and weaknesses of speaking style, Mr Fallows predicts how the debates will shape up, and offers some advice about presidential debates, including the Five Questions That Should Never Be Asked:

1. The will you pledge tonight question (which I always thought was utterly stupid);

2. The gotcha question (designed to catch the candidate in a dreaded flip-flop);

3. The loaded hypothetical question (such as when CNN's Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis whether he would favor the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered);

4. The raise your hand question (which isn't really a question and, as Mr Fallows points out, is both intellectually vulgar and personally rude); and

5. The lightning round (in which the candidates are given only 30 seconds to address a point...which is usually a staggeringly complex policy question).

Regardless of what you think of the two candidates (and I don't think very much, as you know), and whether or not you enjoy public speaking, this is a fascinating article, well worth your time to read. Once you've read it, you'll be better able to see through the fluff and bluster of this season's "debates" and see whether or not your chosen candidate has actually answered a question or responded to a challenge.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Gilahi said...

Jerry Seinfeld pointed out that, in a poll, public speaking ranked as the #1 fear and death ranked #2. This means that at a funeral, most people would rather be the guy in the casket than the one delivering the euology.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Not a fan of public speaking here, but I do it. I'm a lector in our church..and looking at the other comment, I gave a brief eulogy at my grandma's funeral too. So I must be less afraid than most.

Blog Stalker said...

I linked you to my blog. And hey, another great post. I do a lot of public speaking myself. I cannot say I am afraid ever, but I always feel a little nervous. I think that feeling helps me focus and do a better job

Amanda said...

It appears that many of your readers are not afraid of public speaking. I'm not either. I used to be but I think I got over it when I had to present to various customers on technical things I barely understood. The BS-ing must have helped me.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I'll be public speaking next week, as I have to say words at a cousin's funeral.

Mike said...

Numbers 1 through 5 point out the only reason there are debates. It's to try and embarrass the other person. I think politics has always been like that.

And think about how scary it would be to give the eulogy at your own funeral.

Team Gherkin said...

I've done a fair lot of Public speaking. I'm not a natural extrovert, so it's still an effort. But with lots of practice I got the hang of it, and now I actually enjoy it.