On writing a lecture

I recently wrote a white paper after giving some informal presentations in a series of small meetings. Some interested parties were not at the meetings, and I did not want to keep explaining it over and over. So I pretty much just wrote down what I said in the meetings, in the same order. I addressed questions at the same places they came up in discussion. I was in a hurry, and did not have time to rethink and reorganize the material from scratch, as I would a formal publication, so this was easiest. And I do not think I have ever explained anything better. It flowed really well, and judging from the reactions, I did not lose any readers early, as often happens. The structure was surprisingly logical, and not the random walk I worried it would be. This has happened before, and I regret not doing it more often.

Really, this written form is not a white paper so much as a written lecture, a record of something once said out loud. I have many older books that are described as lectures, not as essays. That title now seems dated, but they must have been popular for a reason. Lectures are easy to read; they are aware of how the reader is probably responding. They make a surprisingly personal connection, as any good speaker does. As you read, you do not feel yourself being lectured from a lectern. Instead, you enjoy having something explained at a natural pace, as if in real time. Good essays often make you pause and stop, back up and reread. They have a pungent point to make and feel no need to elaborate. Any unnecessary detail would just weaken the force of the argument. But lectures are another matter entirely. The speaker is watching the audience and repeating points when necessary, to be sure everyone is making the expected connections. Most of all they do not want someone to interrupt and ask them to reexplain.

If it is possible to write this way without a live rehearsal, I do not know.

(By the way, this is neither an essay nor a lecture. This is a letter, copied and edited from an email.)

May, 2015

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