As I mentioned in last Friday’s post, I spent the past week at a big, high-level series of events for my Day Job. There were many speakers, with styles as varied as the topics they spoke on; most of which I’ve already forgotten.
One of the speakers, however, really caught and held my attention. It wasn’t because of his subject matter (my team had prepared some of his talking-points); it was how he connected with the audience and kept their attention focused. He wasn’t giving a speech as much as he was telling a story, and like any good storyteller, he made sure his audience was with him every step of the way.
Unlike some of the other speakers, who seemed to be trying to fit as much material into their allotted time as possible, this speaker was rather sparse with his words. His style made me think about dropping pebbles in a lake. If you throw in a bunch of pebbles all at once, all you really get is a big splash, but one at a time, you can see the individual ripples slowly echo and then die away. The speech was a series of pebbles, slowly dropped into still waters, with the occasional invitation to the audience to laugh along at a comment or observation. The periods of quiet both gave weight to the points that were made and provided the time for them to sink in and resonate.
As both an occasional speaker (under duress) and a writer, it’s a style I’d like to emulate. Although a writer doesn’t have the luxury of long pauses in a story, that feeling of slowing things down or focusing on the steady delivery of information rather than a barrage all at once is definitely doable through pacing, structure, and sentence style.
As Jilly mentioned in her post on Sunday, sometimes a few words (like her “daft apeth”) can be more effective than a full page of description. As a reader, the less-is-more style of writing gets me more involved in a story and at a closer level, because I mentally fill in the details that are not provided. I definitely prefer that over stories that seem to have an over-abundance of words. The book I just finished from my TBR pile, which came in at 450+ pages, suffered plot-wise from just such an over-abundance of words. The characters and their actions got a little lost in flowery passages and detailed descriptions, which led to skimming and wandering attention.
My own writing style is definitely on the sparse end of the scale, rather than the abundant end. It is unlikely there will ever be any 450+ pages books in my future, but I can still work on making the words I do write as effective and evocative as possible so that my readers don’t skim or wander off.
Adding a little humor now and then wouldn’t hurt either.
So, have you encountered any really memorable speakers lately? If so, was it their style or their topic that caught your attention?