Monday, June 6, 2011

Speaking as Artists

Over the weekend I watched Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens. Ms. Leibovitz is perhaps the most famous living photographer, and has captured everything from the Viet Nam War protests to Rock & Roll to Political Leaders within the crosshairs of her camera lens.

Whether its a photo of John Lennon and Yoko Ono a few hours before his death or a portrait of President Obama and his family, Leibovitz uses her 35mm to tell a story, just as we must do as speakers, offering snapshots of life to illustrate the meaning and purpose of our speaking.

Madonna crafted her lyrics to tell stories, as Rodin used his hands to mold stories, as Shakespeare wielded his pen to chronicle stories. Photographers, Artists, Musicians, Writers, Actors and Speakers are all storytellers. Just like all of them, our work is subject to individual interpretation - yet we'd be hard-pressed to ever put 'Speakers' in the same category as any of the aforementioned artists or their peers.

Annie Leibovitz and the others are storytellers and artists of the highest order. Dedicated. Passionate. Practiced. Watching the impact she had with simple still images on the printed page made me realize how important our job as a speaker truly is, and how rarely that importance is recognized, whether by the world and by ourselves.

While a speaker may work just as hard to craft their words and delivery, may speak in front of hundreds of audiences worldwide, and release many bestselling books - they are not typically considered artists or writers in mainstream society.

Ironically, while speakers may never reach the level of recognition, reknown, and respect of our fellow artists, our responsibility runs deeper. Rare is the movie that changes lives, Star Wars notwithstanding. While music culture may influence ones lifestyle (envision the head-banger vs. the country music lover vs. the hardcore rap listener), the meaning of a single song is usually only meaningful in relation to who we were dating when we first heard it. Writers have the biggest opportunity to change lives, but other than the occasional Holy Bible, L. Ron Hubbard manifesto, or faddish New-Age tome, usually readers just chew their way through books like meals, quickly moving on to the next one before letting their last meal digest - and to the typical writer, that's just fine.

Speakers, however, are tasked with a mission to change behavior, processes, and lives. To instruct, to inspire, to challenge. To CHANGE people - and lead them to change themselves. In a world used to consumption vs. digestion, our work is harder than any Artist must tackle, and yet requires us to be just as much an artist as Michaelangelo, Bruce Springsteen, or Ansel Adams.

Am I setting too high a standard for us? Should we just be allowed to go in and provide speeches that are the equivalent of 7th grade book reports, stick figures, or YouTube Karaoke, and feel good about it? Many, many speakers do just that. Even the greatest speakers among us face the fact everyday that their words are simply vapor that dissipates minutes after the listeners return to their cubicles.

Still - we are artists. We have the unique opportunity to leave pieces of our life with every audience we speak to, in a way that can be more personal than any other artist on the planet.

How seriously are you taking your speech-writing? How often are you sharpening your skills? How much practice time do you put in, not just into your presentations, but your ability to present on the fly? Are you so committed to your craft that you are just as likely to offer your listeners a masterpiece when you have time to pose and prepare the subject as you are when you just shoot candidly off the cuff?

Be an Artist. Speak....& Deliver.


  1. Wow, Rich. That was a brainful. I've been struggling with this very idea lately; wondering if my words were touching anyone. And as a former photojournalist, that was a great metaphor to bring the idea into focus.

    I'm going to have to chew on this one for a while.

  2. Art can create change in the mind of its audience, and in the artist's mind as well. For me, art is an exploration of both.

  3. So when I speak I am not just simply sharing my interpretation of the topic or facts at hand. I also have an opportunity to illustrate with my words the pictures that my listeners see in their minds. My thoughts are the paint brush, my words are the paint and their minds are my canvas. What a cool concept.



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