I had a sister who studied composition and rhetoric. We talk much more now that she has switched to a field of study that has something to do with my own work.
Truthfully, I've never had much truck with rhetoric academicians, because what they're studying is too far removed from what might help my speechwriter buddies.
My dear friend Jens Kjeldsen is the exception who proves this rule. This prominent European rhetoric professor who teaches at the University of Bergen stayed with us last week, as he has before. To work off beer-drinking sessions and big dinners, Jens and I go on long runs—he runs faster than I prefer—and we can be heard by passers-by desperately, breathlessly screaming about theories of rhetoric and how they apply in the world.
But Jens is the rare rhetoric scholar who actually spends time with working rhetoricians; he has spoken at the PSA World Conference—spellbindingly, despite a relatively formal presentation style and an unfamiliar topic to speechwriters: "visual rhetoric."
But if you think that's a somewhat esoteric subject … knowing exactly what he was doing, Jens left on my kitchen counter the program for the Rhetoric Society of America's annual conference (for which Jens was in the States in the first place).
The hundreds of sessions in the program's 254 pages (!) contained a few sessions you and I might like to attend, like "The Activist Athlete in Modern Sport" and "Teaching and Writing about Demagoguery in Dangerous Times."
Other sessions seemed a little further afield:
"Junk's Otherness: Parables of Courtship."
"Mobility, Migration and Transactional Invention: Ingenium in Motion."
"Inventing Rhetoric Otherwise: Imagining and Enacting Alloiostrophic Rhetoric."
I'm intrigued by a session titled "Queering Normativities: Rhetoric, Intimacy and the 'Normal,'" and I'm frankly excited by the promise that the session will cover "The Politics of Sex Toys Under Alabama's Anti-Obscenity Enforcement Act."
Whereas speechwriters treat rhetoric as an academic concept, for academics, rhetoric is physical:
"Fatness Regenerated: Re-Inventing Fatness in Theories of Embodiment."
"Rhetoric, Invention, and Diabetes in the 21st Century."
(There's a lot about "invention," have you noticed that? Well, "Reinventing Rhetoric" is the the theme of the conference. There's even a session on "Re-Inventing Style, Re-Styling Invention.")
There's lot of talk in the rhetoric academy these days about talking to animals:
"Animals and Humans in Rhetorical Dialogue."
"Re-inventing Rhetoric: Giving a Hoot About Animal Voices."
And because animals, clever conversationalists though they are, are not the final frontier, there is: "Alien Persuasion: Extraterrestrials, Otherness, and the Rhetoric of Speculative Futures."
Meanwhile, at the lil' ole PSA World Conference (early-bird deadline this Friday, BTW), you'll learn things like, "How to Write Speeches Your Speaker Will Enjoy Delivering and Audiences Will Love." … "Three Keys to Retaining Clients for Years." … "How to Make a Good Speech into a Multimedia Masterpiece." … "Seven Steps to Building a Strategic, Impactful Executive Speaker Program." … "Commencement Speechwriting 101: Learn to Tackle the Toughest Type of Speech."
And so prosaically on, and so practically forth. Our conference will be great. But as show producers, God help us, we really could use a panel of talking animals and a keynoter literally from out of this world. And altogether more sex.
So here's what I propose—and what I'm actually going to ask Jens if he can help me do—I propose to attend the Rhetoric Society of America's conference next year, and write about the experience, from a practitioner's point of view. And I'd like to invite a prominent rhetoric scholar to attend our 2019 show, and write about that, from the perspective of the academy.
And see if rhetoric scholars and rhetoric workers can't teach one another, and learn from one another. Or in other words, "Mobility, Migration and Transactional Invention: Ingenium in Motion."