Really. They are. I know you don't think you've laid waste to your audiences these past years, but . . .
This is an excerpt from the Introduction of The Zombie Guide to Public Speaking…
You shamble up to the front of the room. The audience groans and shuffles around. Everyone is looking for brains. There are none to be found. All suffer from the living death of boredom and lack of engagement.
My son made me this art to
represent a "hostile audience."
In Dawn of the Dead (Romero, 1978), the zombies come to the mall. Survivors hiding out there have this conversation:
Francine: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
In most places where we give speeches, we do the same thing. We brainlessly show up to the same places, go through the same motions, use the same kinds of slides, and repeat the things that seem to matter even when they don’t.
All too often we show up, pretending that we are doing a lot of work, hard work, good work. And we want our audiences to believe it too. And when they clap and we sit down, for a minute all of us feel that it was all right, that we really did all just endure something together that was worth it. A second later, that feeling is gone, and we wonder what happened to another day or another afternoon and wish, like we did when we were ten, that somehow school would be cancelled and we could, just for a day, choose again to do something we want to do with our time.
Most speeches fail. And mostly we pretend that this is okay, that it is not a terrible waste of everyone’s time. We go through the motions again like zombies.
We have been taught public speaking in roughly the same way for thousands of years, and some of the things we think we know are simply habits, not best practices. Sometimes they are habits practiced in the most common places you are exposed to spoken rhetoric: businesses, school, church and politics. That doesn’t make those habits effective or appropriate for those realms.
The argument is simple: you are doing it wrong.
Public speaking, at its best, moves people and creates change. But when was the last time you were enthralled with a speech? No phone, no wandering attention, no thoughts of lunch? Speaking has become an inert show, a droning on in front of a flickering failure of visual aids. We have already given up before we stand up to give a speech. No one cares, not even you. Public life has been reduced to a “let’s just get this over with” mentality.
Too strong a judgment? Look at the faces in the room around you next time you are sitting in an audience and tell me I’m wrong.
We need to resurrect this dead thing called speaking.