Last night I watched the second episode of TLC’s The Messengers after reading about it in the NY Times. I was intrigued, it’s like American Idol or Last Comic Standing, except it’s public speaking. I teach that!
I told my students this morning that they do better than these contestants. Or at least, by my standards; and this is why: the show focuses almost entirely on delivery. We watched the contestants spend a long day working in fields and talking to immigrants about hard work. They then each delivered impassioned, vacuous, generic two-minute speeches on the assigned topic of “struggles.” I suppose they are trying to be “inspirational speakers” and that is what they tend to do – say a lot of stuff that sounds good, and makes people feel good, but doesn’t do much else. But I was dying for someone to say something profound, or political, or at least something that wasn’t cliché. Most of them didn’t even draw in the experience from the earlier portion of the show. Many of them drew on their own struggles in a way that seemed self-righteous and lame.
My other complaint is that the panelists on the show delivered warm-fuzzy feedback for the most part (they really need a Simon Cowell. I’m sure there are a few seasoned rhetoric professors who could do the trick) and focused almost exclusively on delivery or figurative language. As a teacher, I know these things are important, but saying nothing really well is still saying nothing.
Will this show improve the interest in the art of oratory? Maybe, but it also will continue the misconception that good oratory is good delivery and charisma. Although that’s part of it, it is certainly not all.