Monday, September 22, 2014
Public speaking wasn’t Malcolm Gladwell’s greatest fear
At my local public library I found Brian Lamb’s new book, Sundays at Eight: 25 Years of Stories from C-Span’s Q&A and Booknotes. One chapter titled Writing Bestsellers is about Malcolm Gladwell and starts on page 218. (You can watch the whole 2009 interview here). He says that:
“All of us who do this speech business know that it can be a very good living....I don’t get nervous before public speaking, even though I am kind of a nervous person. Years ago, I used to be a competitive runner and would get insanely nervous before big races, so much so that I wouldn’t be able to sleep for weeks beforehand. Ever since then, everything else I’ve ever had to do, I think, ‘Is it as scary as running a race? No, it’s not’ ...so, I never get nervous. I really like giving talks; the discipline of being forced to tell a story in front of a group of people and explain yourself through spoken word, as opposed to written, is very important for a writer. They are skills that beautifully translate to the task of writing on paper. Since I started to do my speaking, I think I have become a much better storyteller. The other thing crucial about it is that it forces you to get outside your world. That’s hugely important if you are going to do as I do, nonfiction journalism. I am by nature somewhat reserved and reclusive. But I need, by virtue of my job, to meet people, hear about new ideas and stories, and get different perspectives.
I meet people I would never in a million years have met before. It constantly replenishes my store of information about the world....More often you start to chat with somebody who does something totally different from you, and they tell you something that is incredibly interesting. They do not realize that it is interesting, because it is familiar to them....This is one of my rules of conduct, since everyone is interesting, I really, honestly, seriously believe that when people are taking about the things that they know well and do well, they are almost always interesting. If they are not, it’s generally your fault, because you are not asking the right questions, or you have made them uncomfortable. Once I learned that lesson, my journalism became easier.”
Gladwell’s answer to “Where do you get your ideas?” was I ask people questions, and then listen to their answers. Neil Gaiman’s fiction-writing answer was that “I make them up. Out of my head.”
In August on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs Gladwell gave a 42-minute interview.