I’ve had quite a few speaking engagements recently. I did public speaking throughout school and college, but I’ve had a break of nearly five years until doing it recently. Not that one is cause for the other, but 2016 seems to have become a year of not writing but speaking. Not speaking to the extent of a politician or a TV journalist, but writing predominantly for speaking, where the speaking is done by me.
Some of you may have listened to the Youtube videos I’ve made of my poetry readings. Your response has been very kind, but I find myself continually dissatisfied with them. That’s the only way to grow, right? I know they’ve got the goods, but the ultimate goal is to have a polished, finished product that does not remind me of myself. Does not remind me of my asthmatic breath, does not remind me of the poor sonic conditions (recording on a phone in a noisy city) or of the emotional state of the speaker. It is to be performed, to be true to the content, the words, and not to the speaker. That’s good audio work. When you get so lost in what is being told, you don’t remember who is telling it. Like Stephen Fry did so flawlessly well with the Harry Potter books.
However, performing it in person is different. It is not an acting performance, but you still have to deliver it in more ways than one. In my first speaking engagement this year, I was so nervous that I wrote my entire piece out as if I would speak it word for word. Which I did, to my detriment. I was later told the content was good, my reading was fine, but it didn’t come together. If I had relaxed with my material, maybe added some humour or been an iota of my natural, rambling self, I would have better connected with my audience.
Even if my writing was as personality-driven as it is here. I haven’t moved any literary rocks with this almost 2.5 year-old-blog, but I’ve become more comfortable with my ‘voice’ in it, more self-assured with how it can connect to the person on the other end. It reads casual, but it’s carefully-done casual, if I may borrow a fashion idea. But, it’s also become a fortress of comfort. I’ve made some personal strides with writing fiction this year, but I have to try so hard not to let this ‘voice’ seep in, in any of the characters. There’s nothing wrong with it if it does, but I insist upon compartmentalizing things and challenging myself.
I don’t feel the same way about public speaking. The only emotion I feel with that is just getting it done without too much embarrassment. I thank whoever is responsible for giving me a voice that sounds authoritative enough to hide my anxiety. It’s not like I don’t enjoy performance in the literal sense; it’s just that I wish I didn’t have to be me while doing it. This ‘Of Opinions’ voice is a character too, of course, someone separate from myself. Her tone is different, the ebb and flow of her thoughts and emotions do not have to correspond with myself. Whilst speaking, i.e. performing my own writing as my own person, I feel separate too, because the only way to be natural would have been to be completely spontaneous. Speak with no microphones around, not to a group of people looking at you whom you may or may not know.
In a sense, writing for performing yourself can be extremely difficult. We sit in critique of the stand-up comedian, of whom one can usually tell when the material is not theirs. It’s simple – it lacks conviction. Yes, ‘vindaloo’ seems like a funny word, but it has a capacity of being freshly-made, which your joke doesn’t.
I’ve yet to hear a weighted critique of my public speaking, but anything negative would easily prompt me not to do it. I’m not sure why I do it either. I suppose it’s difficult to pass up opportunities, but also sharing your material with people, in whatever form, is exciting.
Even with the poetry recordings I share here, I’m more interested in whether people found that piece as interesting as me. I’m not trying to be humble (please keep the generous comments coming!), but sharing my own motivations. Whether it’s writing or speaking, it cannot be about writing or speaking. Or about who is doing it. It has to be about what is said through either medium. Speaking makes it more palpable, immediate. Writing makes it more meditative. But, both have to make an impact. It’s just that you don’t have much scope of understanding that through speaking until after the deed is done, while with writing you can always find room for improvement.
Have you had any memorable speaking engagements? Especially when you had to write your own speech? Share in the comments section below!
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