The Spoken Word

May 18, 2012

It’s that time of year again, when school and college graduation speakers and their speeches make news.  That time of year when I think most about public speaking.

I enjoy a great speech.  I don’t have to agree with the content:  if a speech is well constructed and both articulately and passionately conveyed, I’ll listen intently and get pleasure from hearing it.

Sadly, in much the same way that written communication is being castrated by the likes of texting and tweeting, full-bodied speeches are being reduced to a series of soundbites to fit television newscasts and even briefer “reporting.”  Because politicians or comedians (if there’s a difference) tend to pounce on and poke fun at one line of a speech, today’s most articulate public speakers seem reluctant to chance a creative metaphor or to stretch an argument beyond conventional thought and expression.

I do recognize that it is important to not confuse rhetoric with results, or worse, to miss the follies that have often flowed from fine words and flowery phrases.

But still, l like the spoken word.  Where the speaker has spent time thinking about how the words sound, alone and in combination.  A speaker who uses stories to tell a story.  A speech that draws from other places and times to help us understand here and now, and to help us consider where we’re headed next.  And of course, a speech that’s brief – one when the speaker finishes just before the listener, who still has something to ponder when the speaker leaves the podium.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.