Thursday, June 9, 2011

Public Speaking

I am a decent public speaker. I think part of the reason I am a decent public speaker is that I know I am a decent public speaker. Like a good singer, I know my range; Tom Waits doesn't try to hit Mariah Carey notes, and I'm not trying to inspire the masses like Barack Obama. I'm mildly amusing, I convey information clearly, and I'm likable in my way.

The best advice I ever got as a writer is 'write the way you talk'. Similarly, I can give any aspiring public speakers out there similar advice: talk the way you talk; It's tempting to pick up a kind of speaking persona that isn't your own, but don't do it. Bravado is forgettable. Be real, and people will listen to you.

I've had the opportunity to talk a lot recently on behalf of the homeless shelter I work at, during tours and various events and meetings. It's very fun. It's fun to feel out your audience, and fun to try to get to 'tough customers' in the crowd. As a skeptic myself, I appreciate the urge to throw up a pokerface when someone is talking to you about things that may be emotional, or controversial, or unfamiliar to you. But there is a path to everybody's heart and reason, and it's fun to try different approaches to climb the craggy exterior of some hold-out's indifferent countenance.

A final rule: Believe what you say. Lying is harder work than telling the truth, and if you're insincere, most people will catch on eventually.

Whether or not public speaking is something you're interested in, the takeaway from this post is that you don't need to be a genius in order to be effective. Competence counts. Sure, maybe we'll never be absolutely brilliant at everything we apply ourselves to, but we can at least leave a few scuff marks on the wall. 'anyone can play guitar', you know, or--as my former colleague and blogging friend Malcolm Varner might say--you've got to live, learn, and apply.

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