May today’s post serve as a tonic for yesterday’s double shot on how dumb speech audiences are. I need speechwriters and speakers to understand that I am not saying they should be any less precise.
Who is dumber or drunker than an audience at a comedy club? That does not mean comics can afford to be sloppy with their language. No, it’s where they go to sharpen their act, down to the syllable.
On the new HBO documentary, George Carlin’s American Dream, Jerry Seinfeld tells what fascinated him about Carlin when he was young: “I wanted to be just like him, getting every word in the right spot. Because when he did it, it thrilled me, you know? And I wanted to do that. I wanted that skill. And I’ve spent my life pursuing it.”
And Seinfeld once explained how precisely he went about writing a joke, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. You think your work is exacting? Seinfeld took two years to write a “simple joke” about the invention of the Pop-Tart.
To have a chance at having a specific effect on an audience, the words have to be precisely written and delivered in order and rhythm. I don’t care how you do that—a well-rehearsed script is probably the most realistic way to do so in the hurly-burly of corporate or political life—but that’s what must be done.
The speaker’s request, “just give me some bullets,” usually translates to, “I’m just going there to show my face. This talk isn’t going to make a difference one way or another.” And the speaker’s refusal to ever present precisely? That usually means the speaker doesn’t believe what she or he says will ever make a difference one way or another.
I realize: With a tonic like this, we don’t need grain alcohol.