Speaking or yelling, how do you tell the difference?
Public speaking is one of the things I dream about. It’s an art, and most certainly an acquired skill. You know it when you hear a great talk. And most of the time, we don’t hear it or see it. Why is that? Power Point slides. More often they are a poor excuse for a well-designed, engaging and informative talk. When did it become ok to slap up a power point slide and consider it sufficient to justify your presence on stage? I’m yelling, I know. Please tell a story.
When I decided to write this column years ago, one of the promises I made to myself was to cover topics I was curious about. We have knowledgeable people living in Las Cruces, experts in diverse fields that I learn from. One of our best public speakers is Lowell Catlett. He’s like asprin. How does he know where to go and ease the pain of ignorance. He fascinates me. He has a voice as a story teller. No matter how you feel about Garrey Carruthers as NMSU’s President, by anyone’s measure, he is a good public speaker. These days most of his public speaking focuses on pressures facing the university. I never lose the opportunity to learn from a crisis. He’s a good speaker. We can learn here.
Written communication has a voice too, can you hear it? In a way, these articles are a form of public speaking. I use them to share what I am working on and thinking about. I study public speaking because I do it. I study public speaking because I have been at many public talks. One of my mentors told me to listen carefully to the voice that says I think I can do that better. She said go try it. Practice and learn to determine if you really are better.
Early on in my career I believed good public speaking was all about getting on stage. After one of my early talks I felt and sounded like an 11year old who had just learned to play the tuba. I did not belong on stage. I had no mastery of the art of public speaking. I began to study the speeches of great orators like Lincoln and Barbara Jordan. I never heard Lincoln’s voice, yet we know he wrote great speeches after years of practice. Congresswoman Barbara Jordan’s voice caught my ear the first time I heard her voice. It matched mine in delivery. She was direct, spoke loudly and got to the point. Sometimes she yelled. What was it about her voice that I wanted to emulate? She had a message, a point of view. She had a commanding presence. She also had a purpose. When she went to Congress she said during her first campaign, “I’m not going to Washington and turn things upside down in a day, I’ll only be one of 435. But the 434 will know I am there.”
For the past 12 years I have curated the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS). Every year I open the conference with a short talk. Academia would define this conference as my scholarly contribution to the field. People who travel across the globe to a conference are not interested in my scholarly contribution. They come to listen to the 40 speakers I have spent a year recruiting and preparing for their time on stage. They come to hear the story of the industry. All are leaders in the global space industry. The first speaker up on stage is me. I think about this talk all year long. I write it and edit my 8 minute talk constantly. An 8 minute talk is sixteen, 30 second commercials. If I have a message can I tell a story and hang sixteen thirty second commercials together? Lincoln’s Gettysburg address can be delivered in less than three minutes.
The conference is the story I want to tell this year. Yes, I must have mastery over my field of knowledge. There is a vision for what I want my audience to experience for the two days they are with us. This vision is embedded in every talk and session. The story of how we constructed the show is what they want to hear from me. My job is to tell them how the pieces of the day fit together and why each speaker and session is important to the story we are telling this year. The title of the story is We Will Not Stop. This theme is the main message we ask each speaker to address. This is an election year. The commercial approach to what was once an exclusive government industry will not stop regardless of who is elected. That is the message. I want the audience to know it’s my voice that created the theme and that’s why I speak. It’s why I do the conference. I hope the audience will remember me and my message. Thank goodness I am one of many speakers. The voice is louder, so I don’t have to yell.