Telling the truth

And so we go from the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates (who had a cameo in my last post) to the modern American philosopher Robert Allen Zimmerman – better known as Bob Dylan.

Receiving a special award at the Grammys this weekend, Dylan delivered a rambling speech. Personally, I would have shortened it – maybe taken out some of the “why me, Lord?” references to other artists who (he claimed) have had an easier critical and popular reception. But, then again, a more concise speech wouldn’t have been a Dylan speech. He’s the master of the lengthy song: When the label heard his early masterpiece “Like a Rolling Stone,” they figured no DJ would play a six-minute song and threw it out. Someone rescued it from the trash and brought it to a New York club, where it became an instant hit. Next thing you know the song was #2 on the charts.

So Dylan gets to break the rules. We don’t expect him to write a three-minute song (although he did, and had hits with them), and we don’t expect him to give a pithy speech.

Amid all the words he said, though, these were the most important for me:

Sam Cooke said this when told he had a beautiful voice: He said, “Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.”

Voices matter only if they convince you they’re telling the truth.

It’s fashionable today to ornament speeches with fancy graphics or artsy photographs. And that’s fine – I understand that everyone processes information differently. But no number of visual bells and whistles can save a you if your audience doesn’t believe you’re telling the truth.

So it’s simple, really: To give a great speech, tell the truth.

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