Monday, May 17, 2010

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

I am audience oriented. Performance is audience oriented. If there’s no audience, there’s no performance.

I used to be focused on technique. I learned the hard way that no one cares that you dance well, or sing well, or that your band has created a new genre, if you’re not communicating with your audience.

Why don’t conservatories get this? Or business schools and universities, for that matter?

When my first public speaking book came out, I was paired with a communications professor from Rowan University for a radio interview. He told me before we went on the air that Rowan had just established a course in public-speaking as a graduation requirement.

“Marvelous,” I said.

“Where do you think I’m going to find that many adjunct public-speaking professors for $2,000 a semester?”

That was fifteen years ago, so the situation must have improved, right?

Except that I recently found a blog where professors who had just been told they were to teach a public-speaking course at various institutions of higher learning were asking, “Anybody out there know a good book I could use?”

We have a communications industry that contributes over half a trillion dollars a year to the U.S. economy. Universities have recognized that preparing their students to communicate might be a good idea. But those same institutions are not regarding public speaking as a discipline; they’re assigning professors from other disciplines to teach that “necessary” public- speaking course.

About a third of the answers on that blog, presumably written by public-speaking teachers, were variations of, “You don’t need a book; they just need to practice.”

Excuse me? Practice what?

A piano teacher doesn’t say, “This is a piano, kid. Now sit down and practice.” A football coach doesn’t introduce his team to each other, and then tell them to go on the field and practice.

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