Friday Fable: Aesop’s “THE MUSICIAN AT HOME”*

Posted by jlubans on October 26, 2012

20121026-musician progress.jpg
Caption: The Musician’s Progress, right to left.
”There was once a musician who had no talent whatsoever but he played his lyre in a room that had thick plaster upon the walls so when he heard the echoing sound, he concluded that he must be an excellent musician indeed. Puffed up with pride, he decided to perform on the stage. But when he made his debut at the theatre, his performance was so dreadful that the audience threw stones at him, driving him off the stage. 
The fable shows that the same is true of public speakers: while they are still in school they may think that they have some talent, but they find out they are worthless when they embark on a public career.”

Caption: Gestures I often use when speechifying. Really.
And so it was/is with my speeches. I’m called upon now and then to give a keynote talk or to sit on a panel. The organizers suggest the topic and time limit. After some notes, my talk sounds really good in my head. When I rehearse, the spontaneous ad-libs to the text are invariably witty and always relevant and sharpen the focus of the talk. I never lose my place and I always conclude within the allocated time span.
In situ it goes differently. After an off-topic ad-lib, I’ve been known to stumble around like a man lost in the Maine woods. Time-wise, I have learned that the line rehearsed before the mirror, when presented publicly, doubles in time consumed.
My media, neatly numbered and ordered, manage to fall from the rostrum onto the floor or shuffle themselves out of order.
Or, when someone else is handling the media, they jump to illustration 22 when I am on illustration 3. I’d like to do without media, but, frankly, I use them to appear au courant. In rehearsal, the sound is a perfect tone and pitch, the pictures are in focus and big enough and the link is lightening fast. At the venue, my flash drive never matches the local protocol – if it’s AC, I'm DC. When the video lurches up, it has no sound. Those lively links are either dead or moribund. You get the picture (or actually you don’t.)
While nary a stone (or tomato) is thrown and the applause is always polite, I usually feel like much of my message has gone off, un-intercepted, into the ether. Maybe some of the fault rests with the audience. While I will tell a few jokes I do resist being a group’s entertainment. I always hope for some kind of a connection, not a Vulcan mind-meld, but some spark of interest, something other than a pond of blank faces. I mean my talk to be two-way: the audience hears what I say and muses about it, builds on it, spins off other ideas or dismisses it. The listener is a participant.
I recall one speaker showing at least 100 Gary Larson cartoons in the course of a 20-minute talk. I never did figure out his topic but I do recall that he used an awful lot of cartoons; the audience was delighted, at least thru the first fifty.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

PS. If you are in Nashville, you can get a copy of Leading from the Middle at the public library.

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