Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Information Logistics

     Have you ever wanted to perform a speech, poem or presentation in a natural, authentic and engaging voice and manner?  What is the fastest way to master this passage?  In one form or another, Information Logistics is becoming a key concern everywhere from stages to politics to board rooms--anywhere that values precise verbage and public performance.

     Please take a moment to listen to this song a time or two (and, yes, there will be a test later):

     Squirrels don't have very good memories.  This, paradoxically, explains our fascination with poems--things that facilitate something we can do only with great difficulty. 

     Information Logistics or "InfoLoge" (pronounced "Info Lodge") involves putting precise, context sensitive data into our hands in a timely, compact and unobtrusive manner without our having to request it.  Instant mnemonics, if you will.  The goal is to make a performer seem comfortable with imparting information.  Think of an advisor to Julia Louis-Dreyfus in "Veep" or Téa Leoni in Madam Secretary" whispering (lest the visiting dignitary be affronted by her need for such a reminder) into her ear the names and quirks of the people she's meeting at a party or welcoming line.  Poorer examples might include:

1.  A web search engine, as in a cell phone or tablet.  No time for queries!

2.  A teleprompter.  We need precise snippets, not the whole spiel.

3.  A word cloud, flash cards or point form notes.  We're getting closer, but we need to find a raindrop rather than an unorganized cluster.  We need to coordinate and personalize that cluster.  Indeed, we need to choreograph and stage it.

     Among the simplest applications would be a poetry recital, perhaps followed by a Q and A about those particular poems and poets.  Unless our intention is to look as dorky as possible and make the materiel seem unworthy of absorption and recitation, we want to avoid following a script in front of us.  A teleprompter would help but is likely to fix our gaze in one place, reading text.  A set of teleprompters, if affordable and practical, would allow us to shift from one to another but we'd still be reading, our pace and focus always controlled by the scrolling.  In addition, we're not looking for a one-size-fits-all solution;  info logistics have to be tailored to the individual and circumstance.

     The error is in using an algorithmic solution to solve a heuristic problem.  We're not reading text for the first time.  We're quite familiar with the narrative, we just need to be prodded at the start of each section/paragraph/stanza and, perhaps, each sentence or line.  We're not trying to remember lines, we're trying to re-member them, piecing them together by prepending the beginnings of verses to prompt their endings. 

How Elliptic Are You?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #191
     Russians say "Kto skazal 'A'...", meaning "Once you've said 'A'...[you must say 'B']."

     We often use elliptical language, relying on the listener to complete a truism.

     "Don't count your chickens..."

     "If at first you don't succeed..."

     "When in Rome..."

      Of course, this demands that both the endings and their implications be understood.  Such constructions are so common that, in some cases, even the ellipses themselves are implicit:

     "Do this or else."

      Now for that test we promised you.  From memory, how many of the lines from "The Rose Above the Sky" can you complete?

Something jewelled ----- ----
Round the next ---- ---- - -----
Laughing at the hands - ---- ---
Only air ------ ----- -----
All you can do is praise --- -----
For the fineness -- --- -----.

Gutless arrogance --- ----
Burn apart the best -- -----
You carry the weight -- --------- ------
From your first day ---- --- ---
Toward that hilltop ----- --- ----
Forever becomes one ---- --- ---

Ozone on --- -------- ----
Got me thinking of --- ---
And the mercies of the -------- ---- -------
Me to you --- --- -- --
And in the silence -- --- ----- -- ------
Where all true meetings ---- -- --

       It might help to sing it to yourself.  The beat, rhymes and meter can be very helpful.

      (Incidentally, did you find it easier to reconstruct the first three lines or the last three lines in each stanza?)

Reading the Audience

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #36
      Info logistics involves supporting the performer with just enough of a prompt to instantly reconstruct the text, not so much as to adversely affect the performance or to make the speaker's brain get lazy and dependent on the text.  It isn't like minimalism;  it is minimalism.

      One of my favorite human beings lost most of his memory in a fever when he was in his late teens.  Imagine my amazement at seeing him, in his fifties, wowing an audience at a slam!  He carried no notes, had no teleprompter or earpiece.  Like any good performer, he was in complete control of his speech and never lost sight of the audience. 

      I asked him how he did it.  He pointed at four posters along the back wall.  They looked like word clouds:  terms and phrases haphazardly printed in various hues and sizes on bristleboard.  I had assumed they were intended as art.  On closer examination, I saw that it was the text of his poem, scattered across the four posters.  How did he stitch it together, when the parts of each line might appear on any part of the next page? 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #122
      Sizes, fonts and colors.  The beginning of each verse was in larger print, tailing off into smaller letters as the line progressed.  This tiny text gravitated toward the center of the sheet, creating a spiralling effect.  The verses themselves were aligned on the color wheel:  line one was in red, the next ones purplish, leading to stanza two in blue turning into green and, finally, stanza three was in yellow becoming in orange.  Against the grey background, black text listed factoids relating to the intro and white words related to the poem/poet.  (At this particular slam, winners were often interviewed after the event.)  Each stanza had its own character face:  Times Roman, Courier, Helvetica, et cetera.  This created a visual effect in the brain, dramatically reducing the learning curve.  The small lettering soon becomes unnecessary and, after flitting from poster to poster landing on larger print, the crutches could be tossed aside.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #192
      It also enhanced performance.  Have you noticed that the "Back" button on modern browsers don't just bring us to a certain web page but to the exact spot we were on?  Similarly, speakers could leave the text to look attendees in the eye--which is the whole point of the exercise--confident of finding their place via the color, style and size of the letters. 

     My eyesight being what it is, I couldn't see the back of the room when I tried this.  Rather, I had to place the posters from the left to the right edge of the stage, facing me, like feedback speakers at a concert.  It worked perfectly.  My attention remained on or near the audience, my head turning to address everyone, and I couldn't fall into the trap of lingering on the text.  I was, almost literally, reading the audience.

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #1 (positioned on the left)
Crude Facsimile:  Poster #2 (center left, with album details)

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #3 (center right, with bio details)

Crude Facsimile:  Poster #4 (positioned on the right)


The Rose Above The Sky - by Bruce Cockburn

Something jewelled slips away
Round the next bend with a splash
Laughing at the hands I hold out
Only air within their grasp
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Ozone on the midnight wind
Got me thinking of the sea
And the mercies of the currents that brought
Me to you and you to me
And in the silence at the heart of things
Where all true meetings come to be

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

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