Here comes the orator, with his flood of words and his drop of reason.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1735
[Disclaimers: I am not a conservative, a Republican, or a supporter of Donald Trump. This is about the relationship of a speaker to his speech.]
The ubiquitous double screen has triumphed in Presidential politics. We now have a candidate who is totally reliant on script, whose public speaking skills do not enable him to compose and deliver an organized, coherent 30-second answer to a substantive or policy question.
Being able to think on your feet is a key skill for any executive – for 8-10 hours a day. Along with many others, I don’t think Joe Biden can do that.
Worse, Biden is not capable of mental/verbal creativity. He’s the very definition of what the British call an “identikit candidate” (constructed of boring parts and adding up to a meaningless whole) He seems to have plagiarized all his life. In school, he appears to have copied other kids’ papers. He blatantly presented another man’s life story as his own.
Yet he lives and triumphs, mainly because of the well-written word.
Illusion of spontaneity
Electronic prompting gives the illusion of spontaneous speech, even though we know that any literate person could get up there and read the script. (Biden once even read the title of his notes out loud, so scripted is he.) But could the speaker have composed it? That’s the crucial question.
In my corporate speech writing career, speakers typically had direct input, by interview before the speech and by editing and even writing parts of it on successive — gasp! — paper drafts.
As natural as possible
Public speakers should be as natural as possible. Biden’s speeches (once again plagiarized, this time from someone else’s mind) are cleverly crafted, with lots of feel-good platitudes. And everything bad is blamed on Trump. How can this be? Is he God?
But regardless of content, this is material that could not have possibly been written by the candidate, simply because it is so vastly different from the quality of his impromptu speech, which is coherent only when he is spinning out one of his irrelevant, probably inaccurate memories.
Authenticity is key!
The speech must appear to have come from the speaker. Involvement of the speaker is very helpful. Was there a session where Biden got with his staff to discuss an upcoming speech, any speech, as so often happened in my corporate experience with public speaking? Doubtful.
Why so tolerant?
Audiences are very tolerant of inauthentic political speech (another example: Hillary’s lapses into another dialect) – in this case, wide gaps between the speaker’s extempore speech competence and the complexity of his/her rhetoric.
Journalists maintain, by their silence, the legitimacy of Biden’s non-involvement in what he says; they hide or soft-pedal his inability to compose the speech he delivers.
With Obama and Clinton, there’s little difference between extempore speech and written script. Both could spin it out impromptu and write (or at least contribute to) some of their own speeches. Obama thought he was his own best speechwriter. Mistake.
Speech must reflect and sound like the speaker.
As a corporate speechwriter, I worked hard to make the speech reflect and sound like the speaker. There were multiple drafts, often rehearsals. Most execs took it seriously enough that the speech contained their ideas, if relevant, and they were able to deliver it naturally (because they’d half-memorized it already). It looked like they were reading from or consulting notes, so low-tech was actually better for authenticity.
So, yes, technology has a price. It was supposedly a great convenience to be able to face the audience from two angles with practically (but not quite) invisible screens and speak fluently. But the result has been a degradation of authenticity, a de-coupling of speech from speaker, as is evident not only with Biden’s over-reliance on script. It’s also obvious when Trump reads scripts with monotonous, droning cadences — and with none of the naturalness and animation of his extempore performances.
“Joe, you don’t have to.”
When Obama said, “Joe, you don’t have to do this” (run for President), I think he meant “Joe, don’t embarrass yourself.” The advice was disregarded, and we’re seeing the result.The debate will be a pathetic mismatch, a travesty because of the wide disparity in extempore ability. I’ll have to tune in, but It will be like watching a car crash. How can they let him do it? Are Democrats so eager for a President Harris?