We all walk into speeches and presentations with a set of expectations. For the most part, we don’t know that we have them, but they are powerful and they affect every element of our experience. If a speaker deviates from these expectations, we often decide they’re “not good.”
What if we let go of these expectations? They are founded on a whole bunch of things, primary amongst them our cultural understandings of what makes a good speaker. These understandings aren’t universal, by the way. What seems over-the-top to one group of listeners is perfectly calibrated for another.
A great example is the Reverend Michael Curry’s sermon at Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding. An Episcopalian priest, Curry might have been expected to fit right in—the Church of England and Episcopalianism are closely related. But Reverend Curry is also American, and also African-American, and comes from a specific tradition of what preaching means.
Looking at the buzz around that sermon, you can see that some listeners weren’t prepared for the style of Curry’s sermon. It felt like a mismatch to them. For others, it was a breath of fresh air. For still others, it was perfectly familiar and most welcome.
Recognizing that we all have expectations is a first step. We also have to work on suspending them, on asking, “is this speech not working, or is there something I’m missing?”
This is a link to an excerpt of Reverend Curry’s sermon: