Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What is normal for your speech audience?

You won’t know if you don’t ask beforehand. How many people would you like to offend?

Last Friday afternoon I was driving west on I-84 heading back home. As usual, I stopped in Twin Falls, Idaho, which is about 130 miles east of Boise. Restaurants, gas stations, and the Magic Valley Mall  are about three miles south of I-84, across the magnificent 1500-foot Perrine Bridge, 486 feet above the Snake River.  

The first time I stopped in the parking lot at the visitors center on the south side I got  quite a surprise. Two young men and a young woman, wearing what I assumed were backpacks, emerged from a van and walked briskly to the bridge. Then one ran along the sidewalk about a third of the way across, climbed right over the railing and jumped. Did I just witness an attempted suicide? Horrified, I ran toward the bridge, and was relieved to see him floating downward, What I’d thought was his backpack really was a parachute. That explained why his companions were laughing. Then they also jumped and landed in a grassy area on the southern bank.

When I asked a bystander, he explained that the extreme sport of parachute jumping from that bridge is both legal and quite normal. All you have to do beforehand is to check in by calling a non-emergency number, so the authorities don’t get the wrong idea.

A sign on the back of their Visitors Center calls Twin Falls “The BASE jumping capital of the world,” where BASE is an acronym for:

Spans (bridges)
Earth (cliffs)

Before giving a speech you should always try to learn about your audience, and find out what is normal for them. In Cincinnati you shouldn’t preach that only Texans know how to make chili, because they are fanatical about their local variant ( see recipe here).   

The image of an airborne BASE jumper came from Wikimedia Commons.

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