Speaking up for yourself
I have come to the conclusion that people who intend to speak in public should be required to obtain a licence. The licence should be earned by undergoing practical and theoretical training and a thorough examination. The licence should then be revoked for inflicting any suffering on an audience by being boring, disorganised, irrelevant, and just generally wasting people's time. The penalty for transgressions and speaking without a licence should be a minimum 30 minutes of water boarding, with no appeal.
It fascinates me how people can get up to speak at weddings and other ceremonies, presentations and even professional workshops who clearly have no idea of the pain they are inflicting on the audience. I'm sure you have experienced exactly what I am talking about. Someone makes the big mistake of asking Uncle Bob to be the MC at the wedding because he is a cheery sort of guy who can tell a good yarn after a jug of home brew. He opens up proceedings by telling a couple of really off-colour jokes that aren't even funny with a score of about 9.8 on the Cringe Factor Scale. You can see the revellers slowly sliding down in their seats under the table and trying to look somewhere else as he rambles on.
Then there is the person asked to speak at the local Rotary meeting about a project that he or she is managing. It is amusing for about a minute at the most to watch the unlicensed speaker rummaging around the files on her desktop looking for photographs of the project to show on the screen. The pictures are in no particular order, there is no story line other than, 'This is a good shot' or 'Oh, look at this one, you'll like this!' The only shot that can be good is one from an elephant gun!
What, I ask you, gives anyone the right to inflict death by Powerpoint on poor unsuspecting audiences? As far as possible I avoid workshops and presentations of more than 20 minutes unless I know the calibre of the presenter: let's face it, life is much too short. Sometimes, sadly, I'm not paying attention and voila, there I am, captured in the web of a speaking terrorist who for several hours (at least it feels like hours) will gradually tighten the psychological thumbscrew.
It is amazing how, despite squirming with pain, we just sit there. We've inherited a politeness gene that says that it is perfectly okay to let someone waste our time and inflict pain: that we should just grin and bear it. I recently experienced this in a workshop where I had clearly gone into a trance and sank down in my chair while listening to a particularly dreadful presenter. One of my workshop colleagues told me I was being disrespectful. Well, excuse me, but doesn't this work both ways?
Now, don't get me wrong, I think we should be polite to each other and the world is definitely short on respect these days. But there is a very clear line between being nice to our fellow human and putting up with nonsense and the unprepared, incompetent public speaker who is not prepared to be respectful to their audience. For me, it is akin to abuse. Sometimes you just have to be impolite because the other person is being impolite: actually this is called assertiveness.
So, let's create the Ministry of Talks and with a branch in every town it shouldn't be too hard to get the licence and water boarding system in place. But, if this seems just too hard then join this grumpy old man with only limited time to spare and get up and walk out. Works a treat for me.
Dr Stewart Hase is an Adjunct Fellow with Southern Cross University and a consultant psychologist.
You can visit Stewart's blog at http://