the imperfect performer or public speaker 

Some people, when they stand to speak or communicate orally,1 use words they believe they have attached to a thought or idea they want to communicate to their audience.

In reality, when they stand to speak or communicate thoughts and ideas orally, all they are communicating are words. There is no correlation between the idea in their head and the words being uttered2 live as sound.3 4 5 They have not translated their thoughts and ideas into an oral form.

What the audience hear the performer say are words with no value in the context of the particular communication. They may well be words that in themselves have value and words that in any other context, such as writing, have value but in this oral performance they have no value. And, because there is no correlation between the thoughts and ideas and the words, the expression or utterance is meaningless.

Effectively no meaning can be attributed to what has been said; to what you as the audience are hearing because what is being communicated is simply a string of words that are functionally brought together in a series of sentences that are uttered, bearing no relationship to the original thought or idea in an oral form.

The outcome from their performance is that you, their audience, don’t understand what they have said; what you have heard.

The complexity as the audience, to this type of delivery is that whilst the performer may well know their topic thoroughly, indeed may be an expert in their field, they are unable to translate thoughts and ideas in their head into an oral form; into oral thoughts and ideas; into thoughts and ideas that can be delivered orally and live. The audience can’t hear the thoughts and ideas being communicated.

It’s as if the performer is standing on one side of a ravine6 or chasm7 with their audience standing on the other side, with no structure or bridge8 enabling the communication.

The ravine is the divide every one of us is confronted with when we stand to speak. We have something to say and we want to say it publicly. We can see our audience but we can’t physically reach them.  Where traditionally writing would come to the rescue, on this occasion, there is no formal structure that will enable the connection.

The message has to be delivered orally as sound into the space between you on one side of the ravine and your audience on the other side. And, it is in this sound space that meaning is created; in this informal, unstructured, thermally challenged, transient, evanescent9 10 space between you as the performer and your audience that you deliver your thoughts and ideas as sounded words; that your audience hear the sound and attribute meaning.

In the oral form you never actually meet. What connects you is the sound of the thoughts and ideas expressed in words.

There is no structure or bridge as there is in written thoughts and ideas. You, as the performer, don’t hand me something; there is no physical transfer of thoughts and ideas. You deliver them to me as evanescent sound.

When you sit in the audience and listen to someone and you can’t understand what they are saying, it’s not levels of intelligence that are the barrier. Even in scholarly or complex topics. It’s because the performer is unable to translate their thoughts and ideas into an oral form; into a form that can be delivered orally to you their audience.

Standing on the other side of the ravine, they are unable to find a way of delivering their message to you across the open space.

  1. Oral – every use of the word without exception assumes a reference to the oral as live not recorded.
  2. Utter – verb trans. Send out as a sound, emit audibly; give expression to…
  3. Sound – the auditory effect produced by the operation of the human voice; speech, utterance; any of a series of articulate utterances.
  4. Sound is what you hear or more specifically, if you consider Walter Ong’s explanation of sound and it’s relationship with time, what you thought you heard as a recipient to the sound. It is a sensation that is both immediate and transient.
  5. Walter J Ong, Orality and Literacy, pg. 32. – ‘all sensation takes place in time, but sound has a special relationship to time unlike that of the other fields that register in human sensation. Sound exits only when it is going out of existence. It is not simply perishable but essentially evanescent, and it is sensed as evanescent. When I pronounce the word ‘permanence’, by the time I get to the ‘-nence’, the ‘perma-‘ is gone, and has to be gone.There is no way to stop sound and have sound. I can stop a moving picture camera and hold one frame fixed on the screen. If I stop the movement of sound, I have nothing – only silence, no sound at all.’
  6. Ravine – a deep narrow gorge or cleft, esp. one formed by erosion by running water.
  7. Chasm – 1. [archic] an opening up of the … earth in an earthquake.  2. A deep fissure, a wide crack. 3. a wide difference of … interests, etc., a gulf; arch.  a hiatus, a void.
  8.  Bridge – a structure carrying a road, path, railway, etc., across a stream, river, ravine, road, railway, etc.
  9. Evanescent – 1. On the point of vanishing or becoming imperceptible; to small to perceive. 2. That quickly vanishes or passes away; having no permanence.
  10. Walter J Ong, Orality and Literacy, 2002, pg 32. in reference to sound.

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