Essay On Writing Versus Speech

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Did you know the word ‘essay’ is derived from a Latin word ‘exagium’, which roughly translates to presenting one’s case?With speaking it's the opposite: having good ideas is an alarmingly small component of being a good speaker. As I was doing it I tried to imagine what a transcript of the other guy's talk would be like, and it was only then I realized he hadn't said very much.I first noticed this at a conference several years ago. Maybe this would have been obvious to someone who knew more about speaking, but it was a revelation to me how much less ideas mattered in speaking than writing.Audiences like to be flattered; they like jokes; they like to be swept off their feet by a vigorous stream of words.As you decrease the intelligence of the audience, being a good speaker is increasingly a matter of being a good bullshitter.Just as a speaker ad libbing can only spend as long thinking about each sentence as it takes to say it, a person hearing a talk can only spend as long thinking about each sentence as it takes to hear it.Plus people in an audience are always affected by the reactions of those around them, and the reactions that spread from person to person in an audience are disproportionately the more brutish sort, just as low notes travel through walls better than high ones.There was another speaker who was much better than me. A few years later I heard a talk by someone who was not merely a better speaker than me, but a famous speaker. So I decided I'd pay close attention to what he said, to learn how he did it.After about ten sentences I found myself thinking "I don't want to be a good speaker."Being a really good speaker is not merely orthogonal to having good ideas, but in many ways pushes you in the opposite direction.Actors don't face that temptation, except in the rare cases where they've written the script, but any speaker does.Before I give a talk I can usually be found sitting in a corner somewhere with a copy printed out on paper, trying to rehearse it in my head.


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