Here’s a question that relates to the writing of Autobiography Stories.
I am pleased to share the following June 29, 2016 email interview with Graeme Decarie:
Jaan Pill: You have a compelling style of writing. You make great use of short paragraphs – a style that is characteristic of newspaper writing.
That’s the preamble to my question. The question is: Did your experience as a CBC and CJAD broadcaster have an influence in the development of your style of writing?
Would you write a script, and would you follow the script closely in each broadcast? How would you ensure that you got the timing right – that is, ensuring that your comments were exactly within the amount of time available, for a given broadcast?
Would you follow a script word for word, in radio broadcasts, or would you take the text as a starting point and then proceed to add some ad lib commentary?
If you made a presentation, which has some relation to broadcasting, how would you proceed? Would you write an outline? Would you write a script? Would you just write a few notes? Would you just speak from the top of your head? Would you spend any time rehearsing a major presentation?
Did your experience as a university professor – where you would spend part of your time delivering lectures – have an influence on the development of the skills associated with broadcasting?
Did your broadcasting work lead to enhancement of your communication skills, or were the skills already in place, before you began your broadcasting career?
How did you get started in the broadcasting business? How has the field changed, from what you can see, in the years that have followed?
What made you decide to start blogging? Do you see it as a continuation of your earlier work as a professor and broadcaster or do you see it as something that is entirely different?
In what ways was CBC work similar to, and in what ways was it different from, your work with CJAD?
Graeme Decarie: That’s long.
I got started on a sense of communication by watching our mininster at Crystal Springs United Church, He had a magnificent style, never used notes, understood the value of gestures, dramatic pauses. My first foray was to stand at the end of a church supper, and thank the lady’s guild for preparing it.
So I started as the minister would have with a loud, “Ladies, I want you all out here. Now.”
There was flustering and giggling. I used no notes, made an occasional dramatic pause. And I led the applause.
I never wrote a full speech. If anything, I had rough notes in case I forgot something. Then I’d glance at them for just a second, and get on with it. You can’t read notes for a speech. You need to look at you audience to engage them.
At 16 and 17, I got practice preaching at a mission church in the red light district on de Bullion. Again, no notes. Better to have a general theme, and understand it.
All that was written was the names of hymns and scripture verses.
That was true of an estimated 3000 speeches I gave, mostly in Montreal.
Most radio and TV I did was not scripted. And you get a feeling for when it’s time to shut up. In fact, when I was on with Gord Sinclair, he would never have allowed a script.
I did use a script for a daily editorial. That was because time was very important for any editorial. You got two minutes or less – and had to be out in that time.
I also did a fair bit for film. That had to be loose and impromptu.
Then there was a voice over I did for an NFB film Notman Photographs. They did the video first, than sat me down in a studio to speak the audio as I watched the movie. Again, no notes possible.
I was 12 years at CBC, and it was mostly story-telling with occasional bouts of being interviewed on TV.
Then CBC fired me because I had become too prominent in the English rights movement. (CBC French was openly and massively separatist – and my name was poison.)
When Gord Sinclair called me for CJAD, it was because he wanted someone could stir up an argument. So it was quite different. Gord was the best radio host I ever saw.
And, course, an argument was something you could not prepare for at all. In fact, I seldom knew the topic until Gord announced it.
I never rehearsed a speech.
And actually, it was all really a smooth road.
I also wrote for newspapers and magazines. And here, I was concious of short sentences and short paragraphs to hold the reader. And I think, in the writing, I was really talking.
The best editors I ever saw were at Reader’s Digest. I never thought much of the magazine but it paid well. So I did some stories and a couple of coffee table books because it was a great payer.
Unfortunately, Reader’s Digest has gone way down hill not only for quality of stories, but for quality of writing and editing.
[End of text]
I’m reminded of a story I read, in a book I borrowed from Bill Rawson of Long Branch Furniture, about how Elvis Presley got his start in the music business. As a toddler, he used to get really involved with the engaging and compelling gospel music at the church he attended with his parents. As I recall, the book quotes Elvis talking about how he would slide off his mother’s lap and stand up and join in the singing. Aside from that, he never had a music lesson, as I recall from reading the book.
At his store in Long Branch, Bill Rawson displays many books from years ago about Elvis Presley:
A further thought that occurs to me, a reflection of sorts, is that as well as focusing upon the promulgation of a given belief system, each religious institution – whatever the underlying belief system or the frame of reference may be – has a social, experiential, and educational element that shares similarities across all belief systems and ways of being the world.
I am thoroughly and strongly impressed, with regard to the social, experiential, and educational element, with the story of how Graeme Decarie learned so much from watching the minister at the Crystal Springs United Church.
I love to read about how people go about preparing for presentations; in my case I see much value in rehearsals; each person adopts the approach that works best for them.
In recent years I’ve also come to see the value of ad libbing a good part of one’s talk, depending on the circumstances – and keeping in mind the value of having a general theme, as Graeme notes, and understanding it.
Some previous posts dealing with such topics include: