The mechanics of speaking: Shashi Tharoor edition

It's always impressive to see a master at his craft.  Shashi Tharoor is an excellent speaker and I was fortunate to be able to observe him in action in Delhi today.

I hadn't actually planned on it, but my meeting at the India Meteorological Department finished early and so I looked at the usual suspects in that area of Delhi for something to do.  The film festival at the Habitat Center was running a Hindi movie without subtitles; the art gallery was full of paintings of dark and forbidding gargoyles and the Islamic center had nothing going on because it's the month of Ramadan. The final choice of the quartet in that neighborhood is the IIC.  And I struck gold there! Sashi Tharoor was going to speak and in fact, he arrived just as I was walking in.

I wish I'd had the courage to go up to him and say that I'm a big of his writing. But I'm no good around celebrities, so I satisfied myself that merely taking this photograph would drive J. jealous (did I succeed?)

He had his whole speech written out and was reading his speech. However, he managed to keep eye contact with his audience throughout.  That itself is quite a feat -- most American politicians need a teleprompter to manage this. While giving his speech, I noticed him taking out his pen and marking corrections and elisions.  If I had not been watching his hands, I would have never known this -- he did his editing with nary a pause.  So, not only was he reading his speech while looking at the audience throughout, he was managing to note his edits to the speech as he gave it!

Of course, his delivery style was impeccable -- he had a clear voice without any slurring or filler sounds.  When I grow up, I want to be able to speak like Shashi Tharoor.

What about the content of his talk, you ask ... well, the speech was on "Freedom of Expression in the Age of the Internet".  Shashi Tharoor is a diplomat-turned-writer-turned-politician who was among the first politicians to embrace Twitter.  As one would expect from that biography, the speech was mostly anodyne -- he praised free speech, rolled out Oliver Holmes' quote about fire in a crowded theater and moved quite naturally on to justifying the Indian government's request that Facebook, Google, etc. avoid inflaming the masses with anything that any body might consider blasphemous.

He never quite addressed why religious belief is uniquely deserving of special protection from the marketplace of ideas. But for one whole hour, Shashi Tharoor's mastery made me forget that I was not on his side at all.   He truly is a wonderful speaker.

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