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Sunday, August 30, 2009

9-12 Leader: "I'm Not a Public Speaker" -- Then Sit Down

...and come back when you're ready to lead the revolution.

Local 9-12 Project organizer Jason Bjorklund and I had a good visit last night... well, as good a visit as two guys can have at a public event where there are lots of friends and neighbors to meet and greet. We had a civil and wide-ranging conversation over supper, as I did with a number of other attendees. I heard Jason's sincere concern for his country, his frustration with the faltering economy, and his genuine desire for learning. He admits he listens to "more talk radio than is healthy" while he's driving truck, but he stays away from TV and is hitting the books, and that's cool.

When Jason took the floor at last night's Madison Glenn Beck fan club picnic, he (along with audience members) made a number of political statements, some of which I agreed with, some of which I didn't. So maybe you, dear readers, will find it odd that the one thing Jason said last night that rankled me most was not some spouting of paranoid Glenn Beckian nuttiness (actually pretty rare last night), but a personal evaluation. More than once, Jason Bjorklund told his audience, "I'm not a public speaker."

Jason's performance last night supported his claim: unscripted when it should have been, unfocused, lacking a unifying theme, with one unproductive detour (something about Left, Right, a triangle, and a cross) to an otherwise unused white board. But my beef isn't with a bad speech. I'm a speech teacher: I see bad speeches all the time. I stick around and try to help those speakers get better.

My beef is with a public speaker saying he's not a public speaker. I hear local candidates say something like this regularly: "I'm not a public speaker," they mutter aw-shucksily, while asking me to elect them to represent my interests in the courthouse or the Capitol. Such speakers are saying they lack an essential skill for leading public discourse.

So when's the last time you went to a job interview and said, "You know, I'm not really good at this kind of job"?

When's the last time you started a business and told your potential investors and customers you're not really good at handling money or delivering services?

When's the last time you heard a fireman hop in the truck and tell his colleagues, "Gee, fellas, I'm rather clumsy with ladders and hoses"?

When's the last time you heard a blogger build readership by saying, "I'm not really an interesting writer"?

Jason, you are engaged in political activity. You're not running for office, but you are attempting to lead and promote political discourse and action. You need to be a public speaker. A public speaker prepares, practices, and speaks with clearly defined purpose. A public speaker gets to the point, explains things clearly, leads the discussion, and moves people to useful action. That's leadership. That's what you're trying to do.

And against all the skilled orators of the established powers, the political parties, the media, the corporations, etc., who also have at their disposal the enormous power of money and institutional inertia, good public speaking may be the only tool you can leverage to win converts to your cause. You must be a public speaker!

Being a public speaker does not mean aping Glenn Beck's tearful tirades, much less parroting the catch phrases. I heard a number of folks at last night's picnic who sounded more interested in what I call singing in the shower: issuing their best imitation of their favorite smattering of lines from talk radio, but not developing a specific point further into a full argument or plan for practical action in the context of complicated political realities. I used to do a lot of that "singing" myself when I thought Rush Limbaugh was cool.

None of this is to say that good speeches will solve all our problems. Good speeches are necessary but not sufficient. To achieve your goals, Jason, you will need good organizing, money, and vision that goes beyond waiting for the next orders from Glenn Beck Central.

But think about it: would Glenn Beck have his million-dollar microphone if he weren't a somewhat skilled public speaker? Can you lead a movement if you can't tell them where you want to go?

No excuses, Jason: either you are a public speaker, or you go home, study, and practice until you become a public speaker. And no, you don't have to pay for a big speech course (although I'm happy to discuss rates for private lessons and consulting). You just have to decide to project the confidence of a leader and do the reading, the listening, and the preparation it takes to back that confidence up.

Welcome to the public sphere, Jason. I love rabble-rousers: now go get 'em!


  1. Steve Sibson8/30/2009 12:28 PM


    Thanks so much for showing the true colors of the left. You guys want a polished liar who is a good public speaker, and expect the average citizen to forget about the honest turth and just shut up and let the university elit tell us how we should live our lives.

  2. Steve Sibson8/30/2009 12:31 PM


    I await you and Pat Powers joining together with some kind of anti-hillbilly crusade. Now that Todd Epp has left the scene, Pat needs some kind of Democrat allie. Then you two can spout how much you are moderates because you two are in opposite parties, but still can get along.

  3. Come on, Steve, you know that's not true. At no point do I ask Jason to polish lies. At no point do I trot out the ad hominem "hillbilly" bunk that you see P throwing at you. Good effective politics is based on truth and leadership. This constant degradation of "being a public speaker" also degrades effective, informed, and informative public discourse. Please review what I said rather than imagining some straw man.

  4. Makes me think of when I used to say I am a simple pig farmer until an employee said it has been many years since you have been on the farm. I don't make excuses anymore. I just try. When asked by a city councilmen last week if I would speak in a public forum I said yes. I may not be good at public speaking but I will try if it means progress. I will try.

  5. Kelly Fuller8/30/2009 6:51 PM

    The "I'm not a public speaker" comment is standard for new community activists of any political persuasion, right or left. The question is whether they move beyond it. Many do on their own. Some need it pointed out to them if they keep doing it every time they speak.

    The question then becomes whether they truly want to become effective community activists, leading their communities to positive change. Other folks just like to get up and talk, but don't really intend to change things.

  6. Steve Sibson8/30/2009 7:06 PM


    Obama polishes lies.

  7. It isn't a prerequisite to be a public speaker to be concerned for our country and to take up the reins and lead a group of people who are simply concerned about the direction our nation is going. We are the ordinary citizens, not astroturfed and bussed to meetings and provided with commercially printed signs. None of us have been politically active before that I know of. We are truly concerned citizens. And I applaud anyone who will take a stand, lead a meeting, study issues and history. We aren't all college educated, aren't used to public speaking, and aren't at all sure that it is neceesary to be so in order to be concerned and voice our concerns.

    You are welcome to another of our meetings, Cory. We have no organized political party. Heck, we aren't organized in any way. We are simply concerned citizens. What you attended was a picnic, a time to meet people from other 9.12 groups, an informal meeting. If you really want to understand our concerns, come to another meeting. But please give us some respect as being concerned enough to speak out, even if it isn't up to debate standards. No one in our group is looking for an "A", we are simply wanting our voices and concerns heard and hoping to make a positive difference.

    Linda M

  8. I seldom read or pay attention to blogs; its just not my thing, but I was disappointed that Cory felt it necessary to disparage a group of people (referring to the Madison 9-12 meeting) for the way they presented ideas in opposition to his. We are not politicians, we are not running for office, we do not represent any particular group of fixed ideas. What we do have in common is a distaste for the policies coming out of Washington. We try to contact our elected representatives but they have their minds made up and will vote as they want. I’m sorry if you don’t like the fact that we are not gifted speakers or we haven’t read Rules for Radicals on how to demean people (ie the Brown shirt reference) or that we don’t all agree with someone’s Washington agenda.

    What we do understand is that State control of all elements of the economy, health, and agriculture has not worked in the Soviet Union, or in Nazi Germany (Remember NSDAP stood for the National SOCIALIST German Workers Party). Most of us (referring to people who attend tea parties, 9-12 events, protests at meetings) believe that there are other ways that health care can be improved without breaking a system that works for most people. Most of us believe that spending masses of money we don’t have will lead to massive inflation which is the cruelest tax on everyone. Most of us believe Cap and Trade is a very bad idea that will destroy our industrial base. I could go on and on. We should try to keep things civil and keep up a discussion and recognize where can agree and where we can’t. Cory, you and I have worked together on projects before, and I voted for you for school board. You are bright and well-read. I disagree with you on many things, but I think it is beneath you to disparage people who are trying to get their point across. Let’s try to keep our discourse civil and on our points of disagreement at least on a local level.

    Neal McIntyre

  9. Linda, Neal, you know I respect anyone who will speak up publicly as well. But your group is after something more than just speaking up. I'm not trying to demean Jason here or anyone else who was at the show. I am pointing out that you won't be anything but people at a picnic if you continue to think it's o.k. to demean public speaking and politics.

    "We have no organized political party. Heck, we aren't organized in any way." Right: and as long as your movement is nothing but a response to commentary on the Glenn Beck show, you won't be anything more. You won't effect real change.

    "Let’s try to keep our discourse civil and on our points of disagreement at least on a local level." I'm offering a perfectly civil critique. I'm not wantonly disparaging you or issuing personal insults. I'm offering a perfectly civil and rational assessment that, from what I saw Saturday night, you folks will have pleasant picnics and achieve little else.

    You will also catch heck for wearing brown shirts, just as I would catch heck for coming to a public meeting wearing a t-shirt written in Russian or bearing a hammer and sickle.

  10. I feel obliged to share here a couple comments I received on Facebook:

    From Joelie Hicks: "This is why I like you Cory; certainly not because we are in political lockstep, but you care enough to want a fellow you don't agree with to achieve excellence. Jason; we need people like you, so read, listen, filter and practice in the tractor until you can articulate what you want to share. best of luck."

    From John Hojnacke: "Very well "spoken" Cory. I very much agree with you. I believe most candidates say "I'm not a public speaker" trying to separate themselves from 'Career Politicians'. I don't want to hear what you are not, I want to hear what you want to do and what you believe in. Becoming a better speaker furthers your chances of getting your message across period. And you really listened to Limbaugh? Can't really stomach the man myself."

    Note John's point: "public speaker" should not be equated with "career politician." As Joelie says, it's about striving to achieve excellence. That's what I tell my speech students... and when public figures suggest "public speaking" is just the word games that bad politicians play, it makes my job harder... and sets youth at a disadvantage in gaining the skills necessary for active citizenship.

  11. Cory:

    Thanks for trying to help out the poor schlub and his inarticulateness. Under Sibby's theory, incomprehensibility is a virtue. Ronald Reagan wasn't called the Great Communicator for nothing. He could make understandable the Right's agenda. Whether you agreed with it was another thing. But everyone understood. That's communication and leadership.

    And I'm glad to see that you and Pat are getting along so famously during my hiatus.

    Best regards,

    Todd Epp
    Middle Border Sun (on vacation)

  12. Steve Sibson8/31/2009 11:42 AM

    "I'm not trying to demean Jason here or anyone else who was at the show."


    If that was true then you would not have posted Joelie Hicks' demeaning statement. But she did prove out the comment I put up at the top. The left use polished liars to get their Kool Aid drinkers to believe black is white, bad is good, and socialism/fascism is capitalism.

    And then comes Todd Epp with the hillbillies are too stupid to have freedom, so we need university Progressive elitists to tell them how to live their lives. Todd, try reading Proverbs where you learn that the common folk are smarter than educated university professors.

  13. Steve, I can't believe you believe that. I sincerely believe you are trying to misrepresent other people's words in order to distract readers from the actual critique. Joelie Hicks says nothing demeaning. She is entirely encouraging of the club leaders' efforts. And isn't Jason a tractor-trailer driver? Again, I'm waiting for the specific evidence that I am personally demeaning anyone, or issuing any critique in the original post that is not appropriate advice for any public speaker seeking to mobilize political action.

  14. Steve Sibson8/31/2009 10:28 PM


    It is in you title "Then Sit Down".

    BS, Jason deserves to be heard!! He is an informed American.

    I think you and Hicks want to shut him up because it is real people who are attracted to him.

  15. That headline still isn't demeaning. "Then sit down" is not a call for Jason to shut up (notice, I never said that; you're again making up the straw men you wish were around for you to easily knock down). Those words are meant to call him on an illogical statement. If you are speaking publicly, you are a public speaker. If you are not a public speaker, then you should develop the knowledge and skills necessary to assume that role before taking the podium and asking fellow citizens to drop everything else and listen. Such study and practice are the basic responsibility of every public speaker. I want Jason to keep speaking, but I want him to do it responsibly and well.

    So, where else do you mistake honest critique for demeaning language?

  16. Steve Sibson9/01/2009 6:09 PM

    "So, where else do you mistake honest critique for demeaning language?"

    The same place where you call demeaning elitist BS honest critique.

  17. Steve:

    My young liberal friend, the most enlightened non-woman in South Dakota, is a speech teacher. It goes to reason that he might have some useful pointers to help your inarticulate buddy give better talks.

    And inarticulate does not = stupid or hillbilly. They can be indicators of such but they are not absolute proof. I've seen plenty of highly educated but inarticulate lawyers and professors. I've also seen highly articulate people with little formal higher education.

    It insults your audience to not be prepared to give a speech. If you can't succinctly make your points, you are wasting their time. And you are doing your cause no favor.

    I think Young Cory is actually trying to be helpful. He also seems to think if all sides in a debate are articulate, the public is ultimately the winner.

    Lots of conservatives are excellent communicators. To name just a few: Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan. While I don't agree with much of what they have to say (except my lower dark side companion Pat Buchanan), I understand their points and appreciate their ability to communicate with clarity and even humor.

    Don't see where that is elitist, just good common sense and good communications.

    But if you think inarticulateness is a winning strategy, more power to you.

    Todd Epp
    Middle Border Sun (On hiatus)


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