2 min read
Posted on 08.12.14
  • 2 min read
  • Posted on 08.12.14

Take the podium, please -

For matters of importance, in-person speech is more personable, persuasive

We live in impassioned times in St. Louis, and people have at their disposal all manner of social media to make their feelings known. Facebook provides a fine forum for the personal essay. Twitter is better for brevity - strictly enforced by its 140 character limit (spaces included).

We would argue that these and other popular digital means of putting out a message don't begin to measure up to what remains the single, most-compelling means of communicating something of great meaning - a real person speaking before other real people.

One of the less widely remembered aspects of the weeks-long encampment of Occupy St. Louis, downtown, was the offer the Department of Parks, Recreation and Forestry made to the protesters to promote a peaceable end to the occupation:

The City of St. Louis, noting its rich history of robust political speech, offered to establish a "Freedom Square" on one of the Gateway Mall's western blocks - a place available for debate and discourse 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The Occupiers took a pass. But the Parks Department nevertheless erected a platform and left it standing for many weeks. So far as we know, no one took the podium. Pity.

The Bard instructs us that brevity is the soul of wit, and by "wit" he likely meant not just "droll" or "clever" but keenness of intelligence, acumen and insight. As with a haiku, tweets test wit in this full sense.

The spoken word? Even more so.

A person comfortably can vocalize or listen to about 150 words per minute. A tweet can carry a maximum of 23 words of average length (six characters).

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King told us of his Dream in all of its moving dimension in fewer than 1,700 words. William Faulkner's poetic acceptance of the Nobel Prize ("I decline to accept the end of man") was said in at about 550 words. President Abraham Lincoln's dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania ("we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground") ran 272 words - little more than 12 full tweets.

What makes the best oratory great - and most speeches better than even the most closely tailored tweets -- is the moderating and humanizing effects of being forced to weigh one's words and stand before one's peers to make an important point.

Taking the podium puts more than wit on display. It wins hearts by showing heart.

(Photo: Stump Speaking (1853-54) oil on canvas by George Caleb Bingham (American, 1811-1879). Saint Louis Art Museum.)