Thursday, July 1, 2010

For, To, At, With

What’s the difference between speaking to an audience, speaking at an audience, speaking with an audience? That question’s been running around in my head for a couple of weeks–how to make the distinction clear?

This morning another preposition–for–added itself. Probably not a light bulb big enough to say Eureka!, but big enough to get the question out of my head.

Here’s the theory:

Public speaking is a communal activity, something one does.

If we change the word “speak” to “do,” and “audience” to “me,” we get . . .

Doing for me. Implies condescension, makes me think of missionaries. Did I ask you?

Doing to me. I have no control over the interaction, and am likely to get hurt.

Doing at me. I’m going to put up a shield so I won’t get hit.

Doing with me. Great.

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