...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!
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