Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Does bad public speaking kill?
On November 12th Nic Williams blogged about How to stop killing people with your public speeches. His main point was that speakers should think about whether they are wasting their audience’s time:
“Let’s do the math. If you give a speech to 200 people for 30 minutes you are consuming 100 hours of human life.
Giving an hour-long talk to a thousand people? That’s six weeks of human life devoted to your talk.
Let’s assume 6 weeks of human life is at stake. It is not a loan and you cannot give it back. One hour after you finish speaking, you’ve used up 6 weeks of human life.
If you’re bad enough for long enough you kill a whole person.”
To avoid wasting time you should learn the craft of giving speeches. Nic recommends joining Toastmasters, but there are other options to consider.
What happens when we really do the math? Assume an average U.S. lifetime is 78.3 years. There are 365.25 days in a year. Each day is 24 hours. Multiplying those three numbers, a lifetime is 686,378 hours.
For a single one-hour long speech to waste as many hours as a whole life, we’d need an improbably large audience - one that only the Pope might get. (We might say that bad television kills though).
How about a college course involving lecturing to an audience of 500 freshmen, three hours per week for 20 weeks? That’s still only 30,000 hours. You’d have to do that about 23 times to waste a life, but probably would be fired before you did that much damage. A philosophy department might though.
So, saying that bad speeches kill is a silly exaggeration. Douglas Adams would have called it “a load of dingo’s kidneys.” Actually it’s even worse - because in the above discussion we have not used the correct units, which are man-hours, not just hours. I’ve previously discussed wasting time using the wrong units.
Let’s bury the idea that bad public speaking kills.