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    Volume 9 Issue 21| May 21, 2010|

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Gift of the Gab-You have it or you Don't

Aasha Mehreen Amin

The best thing about writing is that no one can tell you to shut up. There is of course, the possibility that the reader, yawning with boredom after reading the very first sentence, will turn the page, close the book /magazine or fold the paper altogether and go for a little snooze. But you won't be there to see it, right? You can delude yourself a little into thinking that each word you so preciously are crafting will be drunk and digested by the reader, your avid fan (why not let the imagination run wild) who is thoroughly inspired and entertained by your masterpiece.

Public speaking, on the other hand, is a lot trickier. For those who have years of debating experience, speaking in public is a piece of cake. They can talk on pretty much anything and do so with ease, confidence and even manage to make sense to the audience. They probably don't think much of it but these people who can charm a crowd just by a few words honestly have a gift. They can make even something as mundane as the pros and cons of river dredging or the latest fiscal policy sound scintillating. These people are charismatic and really know how to get public attention. Bangabandhu, President Obama, Nelson Mandela are obvious examples but there are many others amongst us who possess this wonderful power to speak fearlessly, with conviction and of course, charm.

Then there are those who think they have it but actually are as delusional as the mediocre writer who thinks he has a fan club out there somewhere. These individuals are quite lethal as they tend to crop up at almost any seminar, conference or public gathering. Often when they start with: 'I will not take up much of your time as I know the time allotted to me is only a mere fifteen minutes but there are a few things that I think will be of great relevance to the audience..” This sentence may actually take up ten of those fifteen minutes but who cares, thinks the garrulous speaker, they can't force anyone off the dias. The rest of the speech will contain at least fifteen digressions into a fading memory lane or some personal anecdote excruciatingly spewed out bit by bit like a tube of toothpaste at the end of its journey, after which the speaker will suddenly remember what he/she was saying in the first place. Thus the torture will continue and be made worse if you are in the front row and your head insists on dropping on your chest despite the television video cameras, not to mention the speaker who is making eye contact with, yes, you!

Politicians are a special brand of public speakers. For some reason they are suspicious of the microphone and nothing will convince them that the device does work and there is no reason to tear their vocal chords and sound like vocalists of death metal bands. They will shout themselves hoarse, trashing their rivals and flattering their bosses, they will make the most outlandish promises to the public- free potatoes for all by the year 2012 - and nothing will stop them until they have poured out their guts like an overflowing garbage truck in a landfill.

On the other side of the spectrum are those for whom having to talk to more than ten pairs of eyes, even if they belong to a few high school kids (correction: especially if they are high school kids) is like being on stage wearing your clothes inside out and a dunce cap on your head. You can feel the boredom and impatience emanating from those eyes as they begin to glass over after each sentence you utter. The sound of your voice is like an endless drone, you can hear stomachs growling with hunger as minds wander off to what's for lunch today and the moderator's eyes constantly shifting to the clock, obviously praying for it to ring. In those few minutes you will find yourself uttering the most boring facts of the subject of the lecture in the dullest tone possible all those clever, witty, energising comments that you were planning to utter have evaporated and gone on a sabbatical. Then, just as you think you have overcome the bout of nerves and are feeling confident that you do have something interesting to say, the bell rings and the audience practically flees the room.

That's why writing is so comfortable. No one can tell you to shut up. Plus you can always tell yourself that they didn't turn the page.

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