Saturday, February 13, 2010

"I'm talkin' to the wall here!"

My admired stepfather, rest his soul, an Italian stonemason and bebop drummer/saxophonist, used to say this when someone--typically one of his daughters--was refusing to see things his way. I don't often have occasion to use the line, as most of my students are receptive and smart (or maybe I just think they're smart, because they behave to their professors as if receptive--not a bad skill in a grad student), but I was reminded of it upon reading an article in the London Financial Times about witnessing the semi-legendary entrepreneur/motivational speaker Malcolm Gladwell. The author is a proponent of a perspective about "spontaneity" which I try to train my students out of:

I also make a point of not writing out my speech. My theory is that it is more interesting to hear someone talk, than to listen them read a prepared text.
As I tell my students, such a perspective really means, as a subtext, "I think I can improvise something as precise, articulate, coherent, relevant, and well-timed as somebody else can pre-compose and I rehearse." And they ain't too many who can actually do that. I am an adamant and insistent advocate, especially in the context of a scholarly thesis exposition of the sort that I train my students to provide, of writing that sucker word-for-word, and then editing remorselessly for content, clarity, and timing.

As Gideon Rachman relates, Gladwell agrees:
First, he is a master of the “look no hands” style of speaking. He just stands up there, with a button mike and talks - and it all sounds very spontaneous, with little asides and jokes, and messages tailored to his audience. Second, he tells stories - there are theories attached to the stories - but the bulk of the talk is made up of charming anecdotes to illustrate rather simple themes.
And how does he do it? Rachmann asks him, and Gladwell replies:
“I know it may not look like this. But it’s all scripted. I write down every word and then I learn it off by heart. I do that with all my talks and I’ve got lots of them.”

Quoting my stepdad: "Am I talkin' to the wall, here?!?"

I sure hope not. :-)

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Nope, definitely not talking to the wall. Rule #1 may be Thou shalt not suck, but rule #2 sure as hell is Thou shalt not go off script. ;)