Public Speaking (Paul Graham Style)

26 Mar

I posted a few days ago about my experience at Toastmasters, the public speaking club I joined, and recommended it to fellow entrepreneurs. Fittingly, I then read an interesting critique of the value of public speaking by world renowned entrepreneur and essayist Paul Graham- http://paulgraham.com/speak.html.

Paul posts these phenomenal business essays about once a month and they are usually way more involved than your typical blog post, and more insightful as well. I advise you to spend a few hours reading through his essays linked here –http://paulgraham.com/articles.html.

The gist of what Paul is saying about public speaking resonated deeply with me;

I’m not a very good speaker. I say “um” a lot. Sometimes I have to pause when I lose my train of thought. I wish I were a better speaker. But I don’t wish I were a better speaker like I wish I were a better writer. What I really want is to have good ideas, and that’s a much bigger part of being a good writer than being a good speaker.

Having good ideas is most of writing well. If you know what you’re talking about, you can say it in the plainest words and you’ll be perceived as having a good style. With speaking it’s the opposite: having good ideas is an alarmingly small component of being a good speaker.

I first noticed this at a conference several years ago. There was another speaker who was much better than me. He had all of us roaring with laughter. I seemed awkward and halting by comparison. Afterward I put my talk online like I usually do. 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.

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.”

After reading this I immediately sent an email to my adviser in Toastmasters and demanded a response and full refund! Just kidding, but I did request a response, which I will post as soon as I receive it. I know for me the public speaking classes are about being able to clearly articulate myself and just plain facing a fear. If I can achieve both of these aims it will only enhance the content, so its simply additive and does not need to be regressive as Paul suggests.  I think he makes a valid point that we can not let content be subservient to the actual delivery of a speech. I am curious to hear your thoughts on Paul’s essay.

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