Shotguns and Sniper Rifles
© 24 Oct 2012 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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A thought on structuring public addresses.


The most enjoyable speeches to give, in my experience, are like taking your friends on a tour of the most amazing cave system. You move at a leisurely pace, everyone happily trusting your lead, and expose one unexpected marvels after another to the audience’s minds.

Often, though, a speech is better compared to warfare than vacation. The audience may not be antagonistic, necessarily, but the ideas you wish to give your audience aren’t going to implant themselves just by your letting them loose in the room.

There are many ways to break down the structure of addresses; some techniques appeal to emotion, others to reason. Some try to excite the audience with novel truths, others strive evoke a feeling of obviousness and inevitability. Some are like shot-guns, and others like sniper rifles.

Sniper-rifle speeches are the sort I have been trained to create in the few times I have been trained at all. You pick a goal, and emotion or thought you want the audience to gain. You pick a trajectory of thought or emotion you think will lead there. Then you craft the talk that leads most surely toward that end you can. You slowly and carefully build a seemingly air-tight argument or trail of easily digested understandings or little imperceptible moves through the emotional landscape. You start broad, gathering the audience from their myriad thoughts; you end narrow, in every mind an echo of the exact same thought.

But there is much to be said for shot-gun speeches as well. Instead of leading each member of the audience to a single thought you try a whole barrage of different approaches in hopes at least one will reach each member of the audience. Matthew 13 is an example that comes to mind. “‍The kingdom of heaven is like‍”… something. Mustard seed doesn’t do it for you? Let’s try yeast. Or scribes with treasuries. Or fishing. Of course, you can argue that each of those was a different message, but that’s just a different kind of shot-gun. A dozen messages or a dozen isolated paths to the same message, either way it’s not the kind of speech where you can hear a pin drop.

I’ve tried both approaches in this blog too. For example, my second post was an (arguably ineffective) attempt to lead ever reader along a single path to a particular conclusion; A few months ago I wrote a little burst of buckshot hoping that at least one of the pieces would resonate with each reader.

Shortguns or sniper rifles, is one better than the other? I suspect they each have their place. How do you tell which one is the place for a particular topic? I don’t know. For some reason the question almost never occurs to me. One of them always seems to just fit.

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