I'd like to talk a moment about sincere, spontaneous public speaking: for most people, most of the time — Don't!
are exceptions. For example, if you're a Baptist minister, brought up
in the great oratorical tradition of the Black Church in America, then
there's a pretty good chance you can be moved by the Spirit and deliver a
perfectly decent sermon ad lib. Still, there's a much better chance
that "I Have a Dream" it will not be, and if you want to do better than
"decent" (or adequate), you'd better spend some time preparing.
White folks, and just about all politicians: Yo! — write the speech; then
stick to the script. If you need a moment of sincere spontaneity in your
presentation, be sure it's carefully rehearsed. More exactly: write the
speech, let it sit for a day or two, and then rewrite it for clarity
and brevity. Then have someone edit
it for you. If you can afford a speech writer, you probably aren't
reading this, so let's say if in the future you become important enough
to hire speech writers, first off, give them credit somewhere. There is
the theory, "I paid for it; it's mine," but if we don't accept that
line for essays submitted by college students, we shouldn't accept it
for speeches delivered by politicians or CEO's or other people who can
have others do their intellectual drudge work. More immediately relevant
here: If you can afford a speech writer, work with the writer to get
the speech you want, then make it shorter — and again, once you get it,
stick to the bloody script.
advice if you're a politician or someone else whose words should be
taken seriously: Do have a question and answer period after your
presentation. Have a website, though, with policy statements and hand
out press kits ("media kits"?) with synopses of your positions in the
simple sentences and small words suitable to American journalism in
these our degenerate days. Assume just about any question you get from a
reporter is a potential "Gotcha!" moment, and preface any potential
sound bite or brief quotation with, "Well, ________ [REPORTER'S FIRST
NAME, pronounced with heartfelt pseudo-friendly informality], there's a
complete statement of my position on my website and in the press kit,
but the short answer is 'Yes'" or "No," if it's a yes/no question,
followed by a sound-bite/brief-quote-suitable short form of your
carefully developed and nuanced position a few serious journalists will
look over, but the general lot of media whores will ignore.
advice is free, and arguably worth every penny of the cost. In the
background are, primarily, two, maybe 2.5 experiences: (1) during the
2004 US Presidential campaign my listening to Senator John Kerry make a
sincere, authentic, off-the-cuff speech. In the tradition of most
actually-existing Senatorial oratory, the talk was rambling and
interminable; and (2) complaints that President Barack Obama depended on
a teleprompter. My response to the complaint against Obama: Good for
him! He got a script and followed it.
actually happened that in 1984 I found myself trapped in an Ohio hotel
during a blizzard, in a bar, having a beer with Senator Joe Biden. The
guy was a great talker: authentic, sincere, funny. I still supported
Obama in 2008, the true pro with the teleprompter, who, of course, is
also capable of flubbing when going ad lib.
with politicians and other important, or self-important, people, the
basic problem is the one classically identified in 1946 by George Orwell
in "Politics and the English Language":
"In our time" — politics and parts of the English language were really
worse in 1946 —"political speech and writing are largely the defense of
the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India,
the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on
Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too
brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the
professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to
consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy
vagueness." In our time, many speakers in positions of power can't say
what they mean and remain in power; so their public pronouncements will
frequently be pretty lame.
But they can be lame and at least presented in complete sentences, and briefly.