I’ve been remiss as a blogger not to have talked about one of my favorite fellow toilers in the craft of blogging, writing, and indeed, speechwriting: David Murray. David’s writing has a toughness, clarity, and sinewy strength that sets it apart from the rest. It has a strong POV, and anyone who has worked on blogging for any length of time knows what an achievement that is. If you’re interested in the craft of writing, and of speechwriting, then David’s is one of the blogs you should read regularly.
And full disclosure: David is the executive director of the Professional Speechwriter’s Association that meets every year, and is by far the best conference in the world for those of us who pursue that strange art. I’ve spoken at the conference a couple of times; most recently last year, and I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie of the group immensely – and a modest honorarium for speaking. He’s also the editor and publisher of Vital Speeches of the Day, a great resource for speechwriters and people who care about the public sphere of talk.
On to the point. My recent posting on ways to conquer stage fright generated some useful responses, both in the comments, and in private emails to me. David pointed me to a recent post of his in which he tells a wonderful story about one of the worst campaign kickoff speeches ever from a local Chicago politician who melted down, babbled, said nothing for long periods of time, apologized profusely, talked about how hard what he was doing was, and generally made a fantastic idiot of himself in public.
Now, one of the points the erstwhile politician tried to make during his stream-of-consciousness attempt to join the political mainstream was that he was being honest, transparent, and vulnerable. And that was a good thing.
While we can all admire the candidate for trying to make a verbal silk’s purse out of a vocal pig’s ear, nonetheless I think most of us would agree that while honesty, transparency, and vulnerability are important qualities for politicians, especially in the always-on, YouTubed, #metoo era, they are not the only qualities necessary.
Leadership at more than a kindergarten level is another one, and potentially more important. And with leadership comes a certain set of expectations, ill-defined, fluid, and situational perhaps, but essential nonetheless.
We expect leaders to show up prepared. We expect leaders to do their homework. We expect leaders to behave a little better than the rest of us in some important ways – like being able to communicate clearly, and even with a little charisma.
So, honesty, transparency, and vulnerability need to be joined with qualities which raise the leader above the rest of us – which is why we vote for them in the first place.
David connects these expectations to the act of public speaking itself. He says, “Get your message organized – and get help with that if you need to. And then rehearse it so many times that by the time you deliver it it feels like a stump speech and you’re almost sick of delivering it. And when you give it in front of a live audience for the first time, no one will know how much time you spent. They’ll only hear your message and see your confidence. We like our leaders real, it’s true. But they have to prove they’re leaders, first.”
Now that’s so well put that it deserves a second glance. And it also points to one of the ways in which you must think about stage fright and performance too. I’ve offered, over the 11 years I’ve been blogging, probably a hundred ways to master performance anxiety. But the most important, basic, and effective way to get your anxiety under control is to do the work of public speaking.
And what that work is David has summed up beautifully. It’s organization – structure – first, of the content. Then, it’s rehearsal of the performance so often that you’re almost sick of it.
Public speaking is two simultaneous conversations – structured content, and delivery through your physical presence, your body language. It’s art and science. It’s performance art. It means showing up every time. It’s not a painting you paint once and hang on the wall and admire. It’s experiential.
There are no shortcuts if you want to achieve excellence as a public speaker — or a leader.