Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reverse Engineering

I was recently flattered when talking with someone who heard my talk on a Century of Jewish American Composers and they suggested I do more public speaking. I said I was considering making that 12-minute talk into an hour or longer presentation and trying to find Jewish groups who’d be willing to pay me to come and speak. She agreed that would be great,  but suggested I not limit myself. She said I could talk about anything. I was such a good speaker I didn’t even have to be an expert on the subject. I said I was game,  but what would I talk about and to whom? And would they pay? Then she wondered aloud,  would I perhaps be interested in giving a talk to a group she put together about public speaking? And I hesitated… 

Because I realized I know nothing about public speaking. Or I should say I know nothing about the pedagogy of public speaking. I’ve never taken or taught a class in it. I’ve just done it. Then I wondered,  why am I any good at it? I mean USA Today did a poll and found that American’s #1 fear was Public Speaking. Their #2 fear? DEATH. And for me it’s like a drug. It’s like what I imagine it feels like to “kill” doing a stand-up set. Incidentally,  I’ve never done stand up. I’ve made announcements after temple services a show. I’ve taken an hour to read off 99 rules people had to follow for a 2-week artistic experiment and I’ve kept their attention. I’ve sung an entire one-man opera 90 minutes with barely a chance to grab a breath. But I’ve never tried to analyze how I keep people’s attention. Now I have to peel back the layers of my unconscious training and map out my mechanism through reverse engineering… then I have to explain it clearly… and see if it works for anyone else.

Is there something you do extremely well that someone once asked to explain and you were left scratching your head? What was that thing you do?

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