I've spent a fair number of hours in meetings. I remember once when an attendee made some pertinent and brief remarks and then that speaker apologized in a self-deprecating manner saying the speaker would "stop bloviating now." That one made me laugh. Miriam Webster defines "bloviating" as "to speak or write verbosely and windily.” Other dictionary's definitions are more critical of "bloviating." How does one know when they are bloviating? One might suggest that a lengthy blog post my fall in that category? But, in my experience, those who accuse themselves of bloviating are rarely the bloviators.
The self-deprecation in this instance was a Paraprosdokian. That is a "device in which the final part of a phrase or sentence is unexpected." This is a tool that is often used to make jokes funny. The unexpected and often contrary portion at the end surprises us and makes us laugh. The "bloviating" punchline makes us laugh, or at least lightens the mood of the conversation. One of my personal favorite Paraprosdokian is "I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather, not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car."
But, back to bloviating.
I have sat on more than one panel at which speakers over-spoke their time. I have been left as the last speaker with ten minutes or less of a 50-60 minute lecture. In each instance, I have striven to make the most of the very few minutes left to me by my fellow panelists. Brevity is not in my nature, but the clock waits for no one. When this happens, one hopes to deliver something of value. However, it is difficult in such a scenario to focus upon anything but the limited time remaining on the clock.
I once sat in the audience for a memorable presentation. I was enjoying a succession of individuals presenting short personal perspectives on a unified theme (more on that later). As they spoke, another of the presenters appeared late for the program, and quietly took a seat. When this speakers turn came, the speaker explained that their busy schedule had not allowed them to finalize a PowerPoint for our enjoyment (unlike the other presenters). However, the speaker promised to "describe" the PowerPoint that had been intended. The speaker then proceeded to pontificate for well over 20 minutes (of the 60 minutes allotted for five speakers.
At the end of this speaker's long exposition, as the end of the hour rapidly drew nigh, the conclusion was a blithe, “I guess we have a few more minutes, if anyone has any questions." At this time, another of the group's presenters interjected to remind that two speakers remained (which the speaker might have known in the event of a timely arrival for the program). Although those two remaining speakers then got their brief (2-3 minutes each perhaps) opportunity to share, the results of their invested effort were markedly truncated.
And, due to the time expiring, they each likely lost a small portion of the audience who proceeded to other commitments. Fortunately, most of the audience was able to politely stay and accommodate their opportunity, that had been compromised through no fault of theirs.
”Manners are a way of showing other people we care about them.”
How do we feel about other people? Do we value their time? Is our sentiment demonstrated solely by our gracious apologies? That is, do we persistently show up late but are gracious and apologetic? Or, do we regularly show up on time and make our statement of our respect and appreciation through that action? The above leads me to some brief observations, the accuracy of which is left to the reader.
The volume of time which one will be afforded for anything is often unknown. Whether making an argument in a hearing, or speaking to a group, we may or may not know how much time will be available. What we know is that their time is as valuable as our own. What we know is that our behavior speaks volumes about our respect for our listener and fellow speakers.
In that 20-plus minute presentation, one of the lucky speakers that preceded the bloviator reminded of the potential to lose an audience with too much. In truth, as lawyers, we are hard-wired to make our point, and many will argue until someone stops them. But, that may not be the best way to convince and persuade. In my early years of practice, I recall a judge who was rumored to rule in favor of whomever spoke last. Proceedings before that judge were exhausting. The judge was cordial and accommodating, but the energy required by that competing cacophony was a serious and unnecessary challenge.
Some speaking formats recognize the reluctance of speakers to self-limit. These may provide a countdown clock, flashing lights, or even an interceding moderator to enforce time limits on those who cannot self-regulate. It is a rare lawyer I find that has never been told "enough" by some judge somewhere. Ironically, the bloviator discussed above had the benefit of a timekeeper showing signs. They were, unfortunately, ineffective.
Notably, it is a challenge to both "have enough" material and yet know when to stop and sit down. I learned from an exceptional mentor to try to put more in the PowerPoint than will be needed; he explained that I could always finish with "I have run out of time, there is more in the printed material that you can review later." With that safety net, perhaps we are more comfortable stopping when the time comes? That can likewise work with "the brief," or "the motion." Expound in the writing, then keep the oral presentation focused, brief, and relevant. But, this only works if you file the motion, file the brief, prepare the PowerPoint.
On the other side, when we witness boorish behavior, is there more that we can do? Perhaps the greatest kindness, when someone's opportunity gets pushed to the final minute(s), is to remain in the audience and accommodate their discomfort? Or, should we in the audience be the ones to rise and suggest to someone that they are running long, bloviating, or boorish?
In the end, let me deliver the punchline to the 20-plus minute oratory described above. Coincidently, the overarching theme of this presentation was essentially on effective communication. It was focused in part on on the need for lawyers to be brief, focused, and concise. If that is not a Paraprosdokian, I doubt I know what is. I wonder if the irony was lost on anyone in the room? I suspect, unfortunately, it was lost on the bloviator.
As I later reflected on the presentation, I was drawn to an essay I read in an advertisement in my youth. You see, in the deep past, we mashed trees into something called "paper" and thoughts were printed thereon and delivered to your home. We called it a "newspaper," which the Internet of course rendered obsolete. This author (I believe an official with a company called United Technologies) wrote:
"Overstate and bore. Understate and score," and then provided examples. Perhaps we might yet all learn from that expression of opinion? Below is that ad pasted in whole. No part of that is this author's writing, but is quoted verbatim:
When is the Best Time to Stop Talking?
A story is told about FDR when he was a young lawyer.
He heard his opponent summarize a case before the jury in an eloquent, emotional, but lengthy appeal.
Sensing the jury was restless, FDR is reported to have said, “You have heard the evidence. You have also listened to a brilliant orator. If you believe him, and disbelieve the evidence, you will decide in his favor. That's all I have to say.”
Overstate and bore. Understate and score.
When a baseball umpire says, “Strike three!” he doesn't have to add, “Yer out.” That's what strike three means.
Be the first person to comment!
You must Login or Register in order to read and make comments!
Disclaimer: WorkersCompensation.com publishes independently generated writings from a variety of workers' compensation industry stakeholders. The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of WorkersCompensation.com.