During recent weeks, I have been too involved with other projects to sustain my previous pattern of blogging roughly every week. I have accepted a new teaching opportunity, joined Toastmasters to learn about their program in public speaking, and began working to create a podcast. This combination of new activities has been challenging and growth-stimulating; and I am presently dealing with some unresolved matters that I think are of sufficiently general interest to justify my sharing them with you in this forum.
Many years ago, I taught public speaking. I used a standard text, with lessons on a wide variety of topics, including the different purposes for a speech (informative, entertaining, persuasive, and inspiring) and how to embellish a speech with supports of different types (such as quotes, statistics, and stories).
Then a friend introduced me to a book by Jessica Somers Driver, Speak for Yourself. I was immediately and profoundly impressed. This short and very readable book went deeper than any textbook that I had ever seen. With very little religious language, it expressed an unmistakably spiritual approach. I began to weave these approaches together for my students.
Podcasting is like public speaking. You make an audio tape (it’s possible to add video), edit the tape, and upload it, say, to iTunes. As you begin recording, there is the dramatic situation of addressing a group of unknown persons—which is different from teaching a class or reading a semi-memorized speech before an audience, both of which I do well. (Part II of Driver’s book sets forth instructions for reading aloud that I regard as inspired and as a recipe for extraordinary performance.) In the back-and-forth of the classroom, sometimes I would become spontaneously and naturally eloquent. But isolated in my office at home, standing before the microphone, my spontaneity and naturalness was upstaged by self-consciousness and nervousness.
At this point in my life, having completed my career as a philosophy teacher, my ambition is to become a living prophet, someone who lives core spiritual truths so fully as to be able spontaneously and naturally to give expression to them and to associated truths, beauties, and ethical themes. I feel a that there is great need in society today for what I can share in this podcast, but how to do it?
There are basically two ways. Write it out and read the script, or improvise. I oversimplify because it is possible to depart from a script in a flowing way (and delete it if it stumbles badly—I use the Audacity software for recording and editing).
Since I began attending a couple months ago, Toastmasters has impressed me tremendously as an outstanding program for helping people learn to make presentations. The assignments given in the Competent Communicator’s Manual for the skillfully arranged sequence of speeches provide beginners with countless valuable instructions. But Toastmasters is a program that leads gradually from speaking with notes to speaking with no notes—memorizing. A performance.
I was torn. I have theater in my veins. I like the drama of it all. I believe that I could do this well, though it would naturally take a lot of work. But I don’t want to be “just” a performer. I want to be the truth so much that it flows naturally.
And there’s the short cut: I know how to write well and how to use Driver’s method in reading aloud. I should be able to get this podcast up and running fairly promptly. And what the #^* is wrong with that? Why should I call that a short cut? That is an efficient and effective method for getting a needed message out there in a high quality way.
In recent weeks I also quickly discovered that I my previous understanding of Driver’s method was superficial. I had grasped it enough to admire it and explain it to others, but I hadn’t authentically put it into practice. It’s a magnificent approach: Listen for the truth, the idea, of what is to be said. Discerningly recognize the idea and value it, savor it, abide in it, follow out its implications, do all the work necessary to embody it. Then no artificial decoration is needed, for when the time is ready, express it–it will be spontaneous. Visualize what you are talking about. Focus on the idea, not the self, and be free of the nervousness of self-consciousness.
I haven’t yet chosen my approach or combination of approaches. I realize that the vitalizing, focalizing, inspiring drama of the back-and-forth of personal interaction is potentially there to some extent when I’m recording in my office . . . because I have an understanding of the needs and receptivity of my listeners and an openness to divine guidance from the spirit of God within me. One thing I know. If I first write out a text (and nothing is more natural once I start to “outline”), and then try to express the ideas spontaneously, I fail. My only hope is to read my proud gem over and over and practice it so much that it is nearly memorized.
Fortunately my Fairlawn Toastmaster’s Club 2803 provides an amazingly warm, supportive, and flexible environment. Members have repeatedly encouraged me to modify the official approach so that I can integrate my other approach and grow according to my lights.
I look forward to my coming discoveries on the path. Please carry the ball further than I have gotten thus far.
P.S. (The next day after initially publishing this blog post) I see a new option: Use the Driver method first and, if the empirically predictable outcome should materialize, move into write-and-read (after practicing) later. Finally, as I add this observation, I observe that there is nothing about phase two valuing that excludes writing and reading, which can still be done spontaneously, in the soul, and with the spirit. Thank You!
P.P.S. (Two more days into the drama) I finished rereading the seven short chapters in Driver’s Part I, and it is clear that she has thought about this problem and sees the integration. Of course there is room for focused improvisation: One of her students led meetings of 4-H club members and achieved extraordinary success by following her method: “Listen for the right thing to say; listen when others speak; value your ability to conduct the meeting; value the ideas you give; value the ideas you hear; express freely in your own way–not trying to please but always keeping your thought on the purpose of the meeting.” (23)
At the same time she understands my situation. “Reading aloud is spontaneous when it has the zest and naturalness of conversation” (42 [Part II of her book explains how]). “It is a great art to preserve the first inspiration and still perfect the technique, which must be done. No leaving the performance to chance. The real artist knows exactly what he is going to do and how he will do it. If you could but reach the essence of an idea and stay with it, you could spontaneously have free expression; but you usually require practice before you can perfect an art, a profession, or a sport–in other words, before you can attain its rhythm and continue with it throughout your performance.” (48) So there is integration between polished technique and authentic listening, valuing, and expression. That’s the good news. The challenge is that bringing those two sides together usually takes a lot of work.