I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection

December 2, 2020
I Have Something to Say: Mastering the Art of Public Speaking in an Age of Disconnection

A veteran journalist discovers an ancient system ofspeech techniques for overcoming the fear of public speaking—andreveals how they can profoundly change our lives.In 2010, award-winning journalist John Bowe learned that hiscousin Bill, a longtime extreme recluse living in his parents'basement, had, at the age of fifty-nine, overcome a lifetime ofshyness and isolation—and gotten happily married. Bill credited histurnaround to Toastmasters, the world's largest organizationdevoted to teaching the art of public speaking.Fascinated by the possibility that speech training could fosterthe kind of psychological well-being more commonly sought throughpsychiatric treatment, and intrigued by the notion that words canserve as medicine, Bowe set out to discover the origins of speechtraining—and to learn for himself how to speak better inpublic.From the birth of democracy in Ancient Greece until twocenturies ago, education meant, in addition to reading and writing,years of learning specific, easily taught language techniques forinteracting with others. Nowadays, absent such education, theaverage American speaks 16,000 to 20,000 words every day, but 74percent of us suffer from speech anxiety. As he joins Toastmastersand learns, step-by-step, to successfully overcome his own speechanxiety, Bowe muses upon our record levels of loneliness, socialisolation, and political divisiveness. What would it mean forAmericans to learn once again the simple art of talking to oneanother?Bowe shows that learning to speak in public means more thangiving a decent speech without nervousness (or a total meltdown).Learning to connect with others bestows upon us an enhanced senseof freedom, power, and belonging.