Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


Moebius Stripper’s Guide to Public Speaking

File under: Sound And Fury, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 11:02 am.

Actually, there’s only one point, and it is this: An essay and a speech are different media. If you’re going to drag several dozen people to a different city to hear your talk, rather than just giving them essays to read, you need to justify the time and expense involved. When your presentation consists of you just reading an essay you wrote, your message is not best delivered as a speech. It is not even best delivered as a speech if:

  • It is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation that consists entirely of excerpts from the very paper you are reading.

  • You periodically glance up at your audience for a tenth of a second at a time, to make it look like you’re giving a speech rather than reading from a paper.

  • You write faux spontaneity directly into your essay. This includes, but it not limited to:

    • Jokes of any type.
    • On the spot “observations” such as “You all look very excited to be here.” When you can’t even look up at your audience when you say that line, it loses a shred of credibility.
    • The line “This award comes as a complete surprise to me, so I didn’t prepare a speech.” Dude, you’re not fooling anyone: you walked up to the podium with a goddamn folder, for crying out loud, which you proceeded to open and then read from FOR TEN MINUTES. You even read that line from the folder.
  • Its title is Effective Teaching: Nurturing Active Learners. Tell me, do you think that you are underlining or undermining your message when you deliver your findings by monotonously reading a paper at your audience for two straight hours without interacting with them? Me, I’m gonna have to go with undermining.

(In other, unrelated news, the business conference was superfantastic and not painful at all! But it’s good to be back at home so that I can blog about things that have nothing to do with the conference and were not in any way inspired by it.)


  1. i hope the thesis of that (hypothetical, of course) paper was “the most effective classroom leadership technique is to lead by example” because that would be just the most lovely (hypothetical, of course) irony.

    - Polymath — 11/20/2005 @ 2:39 pm

  2. Well, hypothetically, this paper could have been about anything.

    - Moebius Stripper — 11/20/2005 @ 5:02 pm

  3. One of the nominees for Best Post in the Canadian Blog Awards is one on useless meetings that you really should leave a few printed copies of lying around your office.

    I still think On Section 15 is one of the most well thought out pieces of writing I’ve ever read.

    - Nicholas — 11/21/2005 @ 4:54 am

  4. The PPT thing with the words of the speech on the slide goes double for technical presentations. In science and engineering, a slide without a figure is a waste of electrons. I don’t know how many times I walked out on talks in graduate school muttering “I can read your damn abstract”.

    - John — 11/21/2005 @ 8:10 am

  5. You can read the damn abstract, and would be better off doing it.

    Here’s the thing that just jars me about this format of “speech”: people don’t realize that you don’t have the luxury of packing in as much data as possible when you are giving a speech. You have a fixed amount of time to get your message across. On the other hand, when you write an essay, you can write as densely as you please, because your reader can go over the essay any number of times at his or her leisure.

    Effective speakers don’t pack their data uniformly densely throughout their speech. They’ll repeat the important points. They’ll pause before the points that they particularly want their listeners to take home with them. They will slow down or change their voice noticeably at key points. Heck, they may make use of PowerPoint slides that highlight some key points of their papers, but…have you ever leafed through a textbook in the used-book store in which 3/4 of the text was yellow? THAT WASN’T VERY USEFUL, NOW WAS IT?

    - Moebius Stripper — 11/21/2005 @ 11:27 pm

  6. I had a professor once — probably the second most assholish prof I had, though this story is not good evidence of that[1] — who liked all his overheads to be on yellow backgrounds. And he got a colour printer, so he printed the entire background yellow. And then complained it took too long.

    When he eventually switched to powerpoint, he did yellow backgrounds there.

    I hate yellow.

    [1] His editorial in the student paper AND in the daily paper talked about how local students weren’t as good, and weren’t part of the university culture because they had other friends and jobs and he wished that the school would stop admitting local students. I still am bitter about this.

    - wolfangel — 11/22/2005 @ 8:47 am

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