It’s that time of year again, when school and college graduation speakers and their speeches make news. That time of year when I think most about public speaking.
I enjoy a great speech. I don’t have to agree with the content: if a speech is well constructed and both articulately and passionately conveyed, I’ll listen intently and get pleasure from hearing it.
Sadly, in much the same way that written communication is being castrated by the likes of texting and tweeting, full-bodied speeches are being reduced to a series of soundbites to fit television newscasts and even briefer “reporting.” Because politicians or comedians (if there’s a difference) tend to pounce on and poke fun at one line of a speech, today’s most articulate public speakers seem reluctant to chance a creative metaphor or to stretch an argument beyond conventional thought and expression.
I do recognize that it is important to not confuse rhetoric with results, or worse, to miss the follies that have often flowed from fine words and flowery phrases.
But still, l like the spoken word. Where the speaker has spent time thinking about how the words sound, alone and in combination. A speaker who uses stories to tell a story. A speech that draws from other places and times to help us understand here and now, and to help us consider where we’re headed next. And of course, a speech that’s brief – one when the speaker finishes just before the listener, who still has something to ponder when the speaker leaves the podium.