Showing posts from April, 2008

Wright is Wrong

Like drivers who have to slow down to see a wreck that has nothing to do with them, I have spent too much time watching and reading about Reverend Wright's rants and Barack Obama's "throwing him under the bus" (what a metaphor for scapegoating or sacrificing!) This has nothing to do with me, for one thing. I don't support Obama in the first place, I'm not African American, I don't go to the Reverend Wright's church (and in this context, when I call it his church I mean his church because God doesn't seem to be part of the equation), and I can't even say I have a scholarly interest in the kind of "rhetoric" he's using. Yet I keep watching these conservative pundits and rabble-rousers try to make this the only issue in a campaign. I keep reading about Obama's justification for distancing himself from his pastor. I keep getting involved where I don't ideologically belong.

My first feeling was to truly empathize with Obam…

In Transition

One thing my students get out of my class knowing: the importance of transitions. I harp on that subject. The speaker doesn't benefit from them; only the audience does. The speaker doesn't need transitions; the audience does. Transitions separate the prepared and practiced from the "I just want to get this over with" crowd because the ability to do transitions well shows that the speaker truly is about communicating, not about performing; that the speaker is about the outcome, not just the act, of public speaking.

First, the transitions of writing and the transitions of public speaking are very different. For one, public speaking transitions are one or two sentences, whereas written transitions are a couple of words. For two, public speaking transitions are obvious; written transitions are conspicuous in their cleverness. For three, public speaking transitions are of necessity more cumulative; by the time you get to the third point, you might be including the …


It is harder to end a speech than to start it. Well, let me restate that: it is harder to end a speech well than to start it well. It is of course not hard to end a speech. Just stop talking. But that will hardly serve one's purpose. Let's start with the common faults:
1. Abruptness, that is, just stopping, perhaps from fear or from the thought one has gone overtime.
2. Multiple conclusions. A speaker should avoid saying "in closing" or "in conclusion;" he or she should never do it more than once.
3. Not summarizing. The conclusion must look back to what has been said.
4. Indefiniteness. I call this the Forrest Gump conclusion, and everyone knows immediately what I mean. "That's all I have to say about that." It's funny; of course no one does that, right? Actually, they do, in so many words. "Well, I'm finished," or "That's about it," or "That just about wraps it up" are some variations.

Why I Like Old Movies

The only channel I watch is TCM, Turner Classic Movies. Well, there are exceptions, but it's my default channel. Why do I watch old movies?
1. My generation and younger ones don't get the coolness of black and white. It leaves so much to the imagination, it allows the director to use light and shadow so much more, and it makes the movie about the story as much or more than the scenery. This is not to say the old color movies aren't great, but most of them are black and white.
2. The actors spoke their lines, rather than mumbling. It is a treat to understand everything that is said.
3. Some of the acting is "theater-acting" as I call it, for large audiences rather than cameras. Of course, some of it is incredibly campy. Greta Garbo is the standout example here.
4. Speaking of campy, how could anyone resist Bette Davis? One of my favorite old movies is "All About Eve." Davis is magnificent, and MM is a crack-up.
5. They could tell a story of evi…


Those who would do public speaking must understand the importance, the crucial importance, of the introduction, the first ten percent of their speeches.

1. Vocally one must establish one's the dominance of one's voice. All attention must be drawn to the speaker. No little voices, no hemmng and hawing, no slinking to the front. If one wants the right to speak, one must take that right with a voice everyone can hear, that everyone can get used to listening to in the first 20-30 seconds, that everyone can find listenable and authoritative. This may sound old-fashioned, but if so, it's only because we have become such a bunch of mumblers not taking care to use the English language in an effective way.

2. Any textbook can tell you the six or seven ways to introduce speeches:
anecdote, funny or otherwisestartling statistic or factquotation, identified or not identifiedreference to a recent incidentimmediate reference to titlepersonal referencereference to the importance of the top…