I Have Something to Say
I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection.
A veteran journalist demonstrates how learning a few simple, ancient techniques can help us overcome our fears of public speaking and profoundly change our lives.
The average American speaks 16,000 to 20,000 words every day. From the age of five through our late teens and beyond, our education system teaches us how to read and write. Why is it that we’re never taught to speak?
In 2010, while interviewing hundreds of Americans about their experiences with love, award-winning journalist John Bowe unearthed the story of his cousin Bill, a recluse who lived in his parents’ basement until the age of fifty-nine. After a lifetime of being the family oddball, Bill surprised everyone around him by breaking out of his isolation—and getting happily married. He credited his turnaround to a nonprofit club called Toastmasters, the world’s largest organization devoted to teaching the art of public speaking.
Fascinated by the possibility that speech training could foster the kind of psychological well-being more commonly sought through expensive psychiatric treatment, and intrigued by the notion that words might serve as medicine, Bowe researched the discipline of public speaking back to the teachings of the Ancient Greeks, who invented the subject 2,300 years ago.
From the birth of democracy until two or three centuries ago, education meant reading and writing, as it does today; but it also meant learning how to speak and interact with others. Public speaking was, in fact, the most highly stressed of all liberal arts. Today, absent such education, 74% of Americans suffer from speech anxiety. As social scientists chart record levels of loneliness, social isolation, and political divisiveness, Bowe muses upon the power of speech education to mend a nation no longer skilled at speaking to itself.
Setting out to learn for himself what he’d gathered from so many others, Bowe discovers that learning to speak in public means more than simply overcoming nervousness while standing at a podium. Acquiring the basic, old-school artistic techniques for connecting with others bestows us with an enhanced sense of freedom, power, and belonging—while teaching us to give a decent speech. In an age of disconnect and fraying public discourse, anyone (well, almost anyone) can learn to become eloquent.