A Love Affair - With the PA system

By Devi

Public speaking is habit-forming and once you become addicted to it, there is no remedy. It is now so widespread that today there are more speakers than listeners. Very soon speakers will have to go in search of an audience rather than the other way about. Take this aunt of mine for instance. Her husband being an administrative officer, is asked to preside over sundry functions, be the main speaker etc. His wife is asked to be a decorative piece and give away the prizes. Since my aunt prides herself on being a better speaker than her husband, at every such invitation she bristles with all her quills up. Her husband might be an efficient officer but is zilch as far as public speaking is concerned. Yet, because of his position he is a fixture as a chief guest at most public functions.

There are public speakers who specialize in certain areas like music, religion etc. It is a torture listening to their platitudes, and pompous introductory remarks which extend to full scale speeches, while choice adjectives roll off their tongues. These speakers capitalize on their captive audience who have come not to listen to speeches but to some noted musician. The speakers tend to preface their remarks with "I won't stand between the musician and you" and proceed to do just that.

Speeches are never long enough for the speakers nor short enough for the listeners. The worst offenders are teachers because they are used to lecturing for an hour at the least.

Audiences are becoming more and more speech - resistant. Speakers on the other hand are getting fatally attracted to the microphone much like moths to a fire. On top of it, our public address systems are very temperamental.

I find the speaker's idiosyncrasies more intriguing than what they actually say. For instance, it was always exciting to attend one professor's lectures for he had a habit of violently shaking the lectern and we used to watch with bated breath for the whole thing to collapse. Another used to walk up and down the platform like a caged tiger, once in a while glaring at the audience. I had a sneaking liking for another who, having recently come from America would casually perch on the table, dangling his legs. We used to take side bets on how long it would take him to knock off the flower vase on the table or upset the glass of water.

The university in those halcyon days had wonderful speakers. One had a razor sharp wit, another was a stentorian orator, a third was a scholar whose speeches were peppered with humour. Sadly the breed had vanished, leaving at best pale copies. If there is substance there is no style and vice versa.

Every town has a couple of speakers who are like "Nilaya Vidvan's" (AIR musicians on call) . Today they speak while releasing a book, tomorrow in honour of a wrestler, the day after at the opening of a medical shop / barber's salon. Day after day they go on with their inanities, repeating themselves. Luckily no harm is done for no one listens in any case. Politicians have their ghost speech writers. In the hustle and bustle of their lives, they don't find the time to go through the speech even once. It is a treat to watch them stumble over unfamiliar expressions and mispronounce words or get al tangled up when the sheets have not been properly numbered. One minister while reading a speech, happily read out the grocery list (which his wife had mixed up with his papers) before he realised his mistake. Another politician went on placing the finished sheets at the bottom of the sheaf. The speech went on for a long time. By the time the audience found out what was happening he had gone through the same speech twice!

There are a special species of people who love the sound of their own voices. To these "I specialists" America must seem a Mecca where people actually get paid for giving speeches. What a contrast to this land where a speaker has to use all kinds of inducements to get an audience. But even then there are snags. If tea is offered before the speech , the audience drink it and depart in droves. If it is announced that tea will be served after the meeting , people arrive at least an hour late so that they can escape the speech. Sometimes if the speech is too long you find the hall gradually emptying itself till the only ones left are the next speakers, the organizers and the care taker who has to lock up for the night.

R. K. Narayan suggested some time ago that speech making should be rationed so that people don't become "mike-hogs". Alternately, just as we have the year of the girl child or the year dedicated to the disabled, we can have a moratorium on public speaking for a year. Just imagine the energy, time and money that can be saved and put to productive use.

Tail Piece :
An admirer of Sir . Winston Churchill gushed , "Doesn't it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech the auditorium is filled to overflowing?"
It is flattering", Churchill admitted, "but then I always realized that if, instead of making a speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be three times as big".

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