There are lots of different art forms in life, and as a society we usually don’t give art the respect that it deserves. Far too often, we take it for granted. However, one type of art that has been taken for granted more now than ever is the art of speech. Language itself is beautiful. The ability to take words and weave them together in a way that moves an audience takes hard work, talent and practice. In a time when our lives seem to be overrun with technology and instant gratification, communication has become centered on brevity. Presentations are read from slides or are prerecorded, flirting is confined to emojis, confrontation is defined through passive aggressive notes and public speaking is considered to be scarier than death. With all the benefits from the innovation of this ever-growing culture, we’ve lost sight of the impact that a well thought out argument can have on an audience.
Beginning with public speaking, this is a skill that everyone should have. Whether you’re constantly presenting new business strategies or if the most public speaking you plan to do is as the maid of honor in your sister’s wedding, you need to know how to communicate to a large crowd. Seeing people show a graded presentation in class by pressing play on a YouTube video or staring at a sheet of paper the entire time takes away from the research. It takes away from the impact of your project and creates a disconnect between yourself and the audience. Having the ability to command the attention of a large room and hold their attention, and then maybe even get them to agree with you, is a skill that gives you a type of power that’s very human. It opens up so many different opportunities and it is fundamental in giving you the tools to make a difference in our world.
The other side of the communicatory art that is public speaking is also losing its importance, and that’s listening. How many of us have attended a seminar or a class to learn something new, only to be distracted by some conversation about “how totally insane that party was last weekend where Molly most definitely broke her arm when she tried to jump off the roof” that loudly went on for about 20 minutes, six rows behind you? As an audience member, you are part of that communication between presenter and the group to whom they are presenting, and therefore you should be listening respectfully, especially since, as we’ve already covered, speaking before a crowd can be pretty nerve wracking.
Listening also comes into importance when we look at confrontation. The few times that people do decide to confront one another, fights ensue instead of discussions and the main difference between fights and discussions is that you don’t listen in a fight. Fights create a disconnect between the speaker and the subject, creating a barrier between the two parties. Just picture two people standing on either side of the brick wall and hitting and punching the wall until one of them decides to take one of the bricks and chuck it over the wall at their opponent’s head. That’s pretty much how I picture fights – they’re relatively pointless and no one’s opinion is changed and someone just ends up getting unnecessarily hurt.
There is a way to confront someone without hurting them, and that’s through conversation. It seems that now more than ever, confrontation is looked at as a bad thing. Disagreement is taken as a personal attack and debate is destroying friendships. To make up for this idea, we’ve started to think that pettiness is the appropriate response to pretty much any uncomfortable situation ever. Pettiness never works because pretty much all you’re doing is throwing spit wads over a brick wall instead of a brick – it’s still not solving anything. What we’re forgetting is that confrontation is a good thing, debate is the foundation of a growing society, there needs to be disagreement and people need to challenge one another’s beliefs because that’s the only way that we can keep from becoming stagnant and continue to evolve. Plus, when that conversation begins to flow, you find yourself experiencing the true art of communication and you feel the same way you would while hearing a great piece of music where the notes flow, or gazing at a beautiful painting where the colors flow. In conversation, it’s the words and rhythm that flow together.
Communication is one of the most amazing aspects of being human. There are no other known creatures who can communicate among their species the way we can. We cannot move backwards in this, as it is vital to our evolution. While it is awesome having faster internet, instant meals and same day shipping, we cannot apply these shortcuts to conversation and communication. Taking the time to form an argument and present that argument, to make eye contact, to listen to criticism and to move forward into discussion is so beautifully human that ignoring that skill feels wrong. If you’re still skeptical, then tell me which you’d prefer: witty banter or an eggplant emoji?