May 29, 2004

The high cost of hot chocolate ... and the joys and anxieties of speaking without notes.

Jeremy explains "why a hot chocolate at starbucks is $3, while a hot chocolate at borders is $133," with suitable photographic illustration. And scroll down for the harrowing tale of how he reconfirmed his belief in the proposition: "go with only minimal or no notes for any talk of 30 minutes or less." Hmm ... I have a 15 minute talk I need to do next Friday .... Note: he doesn't say go with minimal preparation, just minimal notes.

Anyone worth listening to speak at all is much better to listen to when they are speaking straight from their head not their notes. (Which is why closed book exams are better, by the way.) You just have to get over the anxiety of worrying that the pressure of the occasion will cut off your access to the place in your head where the relevant information resides. Too bad politicians have to read their speeches: they have to worry that one misstatement or misguided locution will cause them trouble. That's why my plan for the campaign is: submit it in writing. If it's already in writing, let me read it. I can do that in less than half the time it will take you to deliver it as a speech.

That reminds me of an anecdote about F.A. Hayek that I just heard this morning on C-Span--yes, I watch C-Span while getting ready in the morning!--told by the author Gregory Nash. After adding the word "serfdom" to my Google search when the whole first page came up Salma Hayek, I found the anecdote told by another author (here). The C-Span version of the anecdote included the additional detail that Hayek had never given a public speech before and was told he would need to do so only the night before, but here's the key part:
After The Road to Serfdom (1944) became a bestseller, the University of Chicago Press rushed the author F.A. Hayek into the lecture circuit, a new experience for him.  He told an interviewer,  “When I was picked up at my hotel [in New York]...I asked, 'What sort of audience do you expect?'  They said, 'The hall holds 3,000 but there's an overflow meeting.'  Dear God, I hadn't an idea what I was going to say.  'How have you announced it?'  'Oh, we have called it 'The Rule of Law in International Affairs.'  My God, I had never thought about that problem in my life…I asked the chairman if three-quarters of an hour would be enough.  'Oh, no, it must be exactly an are on the radio." 
It turns out, the talk was a big success. Was that because Hayek was so brilliant he was able to do well even with shocking disadvantages, or did all of these nightmarish problems make him better? He was no doubt shocked into a very energetic state and he was forced to be spontaneous and tap straight into his inner resources. But who with fair warning could plan to do things this way? We hear the anecdote about the time it worked, but many speakers have fallen disastrously when unprepared. Still, many overprepared speakers are horrible. Yet they are never horribly exposed and humiliated as they experience their failure. Notice that no one ever has a real nightmare about standing at a lectern reading a prepared speech that is very dull. (Yes, I know that might be because it is impossible to read in a dream).

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