I admire Neil Gaiman for countless reasons, a minor one being how he deals with public speaking. I speak in public occasionally and I enjoy it (maybe a little too much). It’s scary, granted, but there are techniques to be learnt and the process of learning is always rewarding, then there’s the pleasure of performing, which is something I really hadn’t seen coming, and sometimes people’s eyes go wide just at the right point of your story. Well sometimes that can be a little depressing, because maybe it’s not that you’re a particularly good speaker, it’s just that you have a clueless audience that can be convinced of anything provided that you avoid using the adverb “not” in your entire speech. The next speaker will convince them of the opposite of what you’ve told them anyway.
I’d really like to improve my pauses. Mr. Gaiman masters them. You need pauses of course, to change the rhythm, allow concepts to sink in and so on, but in order to pause effectively, I always need some sort of trick, for example drinking, gesturing, pointing at something on the slide, turning to write something on the whiteboard. If I just pause, I panic. My mind starts to think what if you’re not able to get yourself to speak again, what if the voice doesn’t come out anymore, imagine if this becomes an endless pause and they have to drag you away. So I lose the rhythm, the connection with the audience is gone, I’m afraid I even stare. I know it’s silly. So I just force myself into speaking again, and everything is back to normal.
Here you can listen to Neil Gaiman addressing the University of the Arts Class of 2012. It’s a fantastic speech of course in terms of writing and you probably have already listened to it last week, but please this time note the performance, the output. It’s amazing.