I'm not a very good speaker. I say "um" a lot. Sometimes I have to pause when I lose my train of thought. I wish I were a better speaker. But I don't wish I were a better speaker like I wish I were a better writer. What I really want is to have good ideas, and that's a much bigger part of being a good writer than being a good speaker.

Having good ideas is most of writing well. If you know what you're talking about, you can say it in the plainest words and you'll be perceived as having a good style. With speaking it's the opposite: having good ideas is an alarmingly small component of being a good speaker.

I first noticed this at a conference several years ago. There was another speaker who was much better than me. He had all of us roaring with laughter. I seemed awkward and halting by comparison. Afterward I put my talk online like I usually do. As I was doing it I tried to imagine what a transcript of the other guy's talk would be like, and it was only then I realized he hadn't said very much.

Maybe this would have been obvious to someone who knew more about speaking, but it was a revelation to me how much less ideas mattered in speaking than writing. [1]

A few years later I heard a talk by someone who was not merely a better speaker than me, but a famous speaker. Boy was he good. So I decided I'd pay close attention to what he said, to learn how he did it. After about ten sentences I found myself thinking "I don't want to be a good speaker."

Being a really good speaker is not merely orthogonal to having good ideas, but in many ways pushes you in the opposite direction. For example, when I give a talk I usually write it out beforehand. I know that's a mistake; I know delivering a prewritten talk makes it harder to engage with an audience. The way to get the attention of an audience is to give them your full attention, and when you're delivering a prewritten talk your attention is always divided between the audience and the talk—even if you've...

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