Vladimir Antropov

Skills Spoil Fun

Posted in Thoughts by Vladimir Antropov on December 14, 2010

Sometimes I come across a saying or a maxim and think “How true!” or “How well put!”, and then it sticks to me and pops up in my mind on appropriate occasions. Recently I experienced one of those moments which evoked the memories of the following passage from Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi where he wrote about his study of steamboat piloting craft:

Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know
every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I
knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition.
But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be
restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had
gone out of the majestic river!
Since those days, I have pitied doctors from my heart. What does the lovely
flush in a beauty’s cheek mean to a doctor but a ‘break’ that ripples
above some deadly disease. Are not all her visible charms sown thick
with what are to him the signs and symbols of hidden decay? Does he ever
see her beauty at all, or doesn’t he simply view her professionally, and
comment upon her unwholesome condition all to himself? And doesn’t he
sometimes wonder whether he has gained most or lost most by learning his

This happened when I attended a presentation where a speaker peering into his notes read:

When I look around I see many familiar faces.

After reading that he raised his eyes and looked around… I smiled. The contrast between the words and the body language was so pronounced that it looked like a purposeful demonstration of how public speaking should not be done. But then it occurred to me that 2 years ago I wouldn’t even have noticed it. For me a content of a speech was always superior to its form. If a speaker said he was looking around, I would simply believe him without checking if he was actually doing that.

But two years in Toastmasters have definitely changed me. Now listening to a speaker I will notice all those defects – filler words, unconvincing body language, monotonous speech. What is worse, I may even get annoyed by a manner of speaking and suffer from a poor presentation.  This actually happened to me at a training course where a presenter didn’t fininsh every second sentence and started every other one with the words “But again, …” It was excruciating!

Pilots and doctors, mentioned in Mark Twain’s book, although having lost something, at least got something valuable in return. It’s not the case with me! As a matter of fact, I don’t do any public speaking these days. So, learning the intricacies of speaker’s craft I hardly gained anything. Nevertheless, I can’t say that my time with Toastmasters was wasted. The leadership education track has significantly improved my everyday communication skills and boosted my confidence, but I will never listen to a public speaker the same way again.