Too Bad Only the Good Speakers Will Listen to You: An Interview with Dan Conley

“Public speaking is the only regularly-performed public art where the majority of performers refused to submit to the artistic conventions.” That’s the opinion of Chicago speech writer Dan Conley.

Prior to going independent, Dan was the speech writer for Virginia Governor Doug Wilder, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, and IBM’s Senior VP for Sales Bill Etherington.

Dan told me, “You give very well-written advice about grabbing an audience’s attention. Too bad only the good speakers will listen to you. I’ve been a professional speech writer for a dozen years, and it seems to me that the only coachable speakers, whether they are business executives or elected officials, are those who understand that a speech is a performance. Being a speaker is no different from a being stand-up comic, actor or musician.

“Every bad speaker I’ve ever known believes that he is above giving a performance. Public speaking is the only regularly-presented public art where the majority of performers refused to submit to the artistic conventions. I wonder how they would they like to attend a show where the musicians turned their backs to the audience? Or the stand-up comic refused to wear a microphone, so only the first two rows could hear?

“Well, Patricia, I know that speech coaching is one of the things you do for a living, and I’m sure you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, but the state of the art has become very distressing for me. I’ve had it with people who think slides are stories and who think their job title is a substitute for stage presence.

“Public speaking,” Dan concludes, “may terrify many executives, but their contempt for the art of speaking shows a horrible disrespect for those who have to sit through their mindless ramblings.”

Thanks, Dan, for your insightful comments. I couldn’t agree more.