The Dyslexic Star Who Shocked the Row

Over the past 18 months my spelling and grammar have gotten worse. I think this decline in writing quality is inversely proportional to my quantity of speaking in front of larger audiences, typically at conference-type events.

It seems that the more comfortable I get at being a live entertainer, the less punctilious I become. It’s gotten so bad that if I don’t triple-or-quadruple-check my writing — which I usually don’t in my informal communication — there’s bound to be a typo in there.

(I used to only need to double-check it.)

Recent examples culled from various outboxes:

  • “ok sound good to me!”
  • “np problem!”
  • I’ll give ‘em some extra homework between the sessons…
  • please check in with her and see if you she has bandwidth to touch base
  • “good luck with it and please stay in tocuh!”

Yes, even this blog post is crawling with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and missing words… although I’m cleaning those up as I write this…. mostly… I hope… I’m bound to forget about my shifting verb tense and probably need to tuck-in some dangling participles…


While it’s possible for us to get rusty at something that we haven’t practiced in a while — particularly those skills which we haven’t developed up to a certain threshold — for the most part I disagree with the notion that our developed skills (vs. “in progress” skills) are subject to the Use It or Lose It principle. Moreover, provided the right resources and motivation, I believe in the infinite plasticity of the human brain: we can learn do anything we want to, if we set our minds to it.

However, I’m also coming to terms with trade-offs; it’s not so much an issue of “either-or” as it is “easier or.”  There are some things that — when we learn them — will tend to come at the expense of something else. In other words, the shortest path of advancement for one skill set may be through the erosion a previously acquired skill set.

It’s easy to forget how to… ..once you’ve learned  how to… ..but regardless, you’re unlikely to forget once you’ve learned how to…
design beautiful architecture be a facilities manager ride a bicycle
solve quadratic equations use Microsoft Excel add any two single digit integers
produce high quality work, efficiently manage others sail a boat
proclaim clear, absolute certainties equivocate hand-code tables in HTML 2.0
hunt gather sing “Happy Birthday”
express sincere love deal with betrayal tell a lie

Writing vs. Speaking


And thus it is rare that mathematicians are intuitive, and that men of intuition are mathematicians, because mathematicians wish to treat matters of intuition mathematically (…)  Intuitive minds, on the contrary, being thus accustomed to judge at a single glance, are so astonished when they are presented with propositions of which they understand nothing, (…) so… (…) that they are repelled and disheartened.


But dull minds are never either intuitive or mathematical.


There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of without that warmth.

Blaise Pascal, Pensées

Public speaking in front of large groups is a skill that improves most easily by ditching the rigors of impeccable writing.  Being a great writer is largely about being a great re-writer, continuously weighing and improving one’s word choices, sentence construction, and narrative flow.

The flow of a great live performance, on the other hand, comes from being bold and audacious with those words, sentences and narrative… from embracing the accidents and making those accidents a part of the performance. There is no hesitation, no going back to correct and re-do a line. A great public speaker dances with their audience, seamlessly moving from one phrase to the next. There is no room for worrying about the minutia of perfect syntax. From the perspective of the audience, the moment the performer has expressed their fear of failure, the failure has already happened.

I am born to preach the gospel, and I sure do love my job

Practice, of course, trumps any trade-off; there have been many great writers who managed to pull of great live performances — and no doubt they kept practicing both skill sets.

In writing, we can test out our ideas, make mistakes and correct ourselves.  We can develop a point of view, crystallize our thoughts, and refine our words until each point is sharp and sparkling. However, if we want to preach the gospel, at a certain point we have to stop crossing those t’s.

We’ve got to put the pen down, stand up, command attention, and connect with the people.

Starting a real conversation means putting our selves out there — not just our words.

Keep dancing.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on March 16, 2012, in Communication Skills, Learning, Talent, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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