The other day I needed to ask for telephone help to access an account I hadn't used in awhile. I'd forgotten the entry sequence and just wanted a quick, two sentence reminder: "First you do this, then you do that. That's all there is to it." Unfortunately, that's not what I got.
For close to 15 agonizing minutes I sat there biting my nails and listening to the person on the other end of the phone repeat the same information at least twice even though I got it the first time. That was only the beginning.
I had the ill-advised temerity to ask a clarifying question. Big mistake. He had to start again from the beginning and repeat the same information a third time without, it seems, stopping to take a breath. There was no pause long enough for me to say, "Wait a minute! I got that." He was paying no attention to me on the other end of the phone at all. I pictured him in a little cubicle somewhere, staring at his computer in a kind of hypnotic state where the information he was reading off the screen went in through his eyes and out through his mouth, bypassing his brain completely!
Unfortunately, there are public speakers who suffer from the same script blindness.
I once had to sit through an hour-long talk given by a professor at a lunchtime gathering. He was extremely knowledgeable, had been teaching for many years, and obviously knew and loved his material. The part he forgot was that he wasn't alone in the room.
He read without stopping, only occasionally pausing to take a breath. He was enthralled by the ins and outs of his subject and gloried in the sound of his own voice. If he happened to accidentally raise his eyes, he looked a bit startled to see us all looking back at him. When someone raised a hand to ask a question, he didn't seem to notice. Down his eyes went again to the place where he'd left off, and he resumed the hypnotic rhythm and cadence of his own voice.
Many members of the audience started to check their cellphones and begin whispered conversations. Others fell asleep. One snored and his friend kept elbowing him awake, to no avail. Within a few minutes, one by one people got up, marched up the aisle and out the back doors. In ten minutes, about half the audience had disappeared.
The professor never noticed. He just kept on reading.
There were a handful of us remaining when the professor pronounced his final sentence and looked up for the last time. Was he surprised that there were so few listeners left and almost no applause? He did look a trifle flustered, then gathered his pages and marched stiffly out of the room without a glance behind. We all filed out quietly and went back to work.
I don't remember his name or what he spoke about, but I keep the picture of him in my mind as the kind of public speaker I never want to be. He had a gift to give, and an audience that wanted to receive it. And yet, expert in his field as he was, he wasted it all. What a shame!