“What is a scientist after all? It is a curious man looking through a keyhole, the keyhole of nature, trying to know what’s going on.” Jacques Cousteau
Curiosity is the engine of learning. From childhood on, it’s curiosity that causes us to learn. What we speakers have to offer is our understanding of what we’ve observed through our own keyholes. Our keyholes let us look at our life experience and our professional experiences.
Books and the Internet are keyholes to the experiences of others. We can teach from the experiences of others, so long as we know them and understand them.
Scientists are observers of observations. They keep meticulous records of their observations, either taken directly from nature or by experimentation. Bookkeepers keep meticulous records, too, but the scientist has to interpret the meaning behind the recorded observations. Do the observations help explain or disprove what’s currently believed to be true? Do the observations support or disprove the hypothesis? What do the facts mean?
How is a speaker like a scientist? We all have professional and life experiences that might hold meaning for someone else. For many of us, those experiences are still raw data, like the notes in a scientist’s notebook that haven’t been studied for their meaning.
Do we have experiences that seem to shout out meaning? Like that time when a friend did something amazing or difficult that made us rethink how we live our lives? Or that time when a parent demonstrated a deep and powerful truth about how to live life well?
Do we have beliefs that we developed from our own experience? I once was stranded when my car broke down in rural western Maine very late at night in the winter. It was cold, snowing like crazy, and the closest house was barely visible, way down the road. Miraculously, someone else was driving on that road well after midnight and he helped me push my car to that house. Then, miraculously, the owner of the house let me sleep inside. Otherwise, I might well have died from the cold. From that night, I believe that people are basically good and will help others when it matters most.
I was never an astronaut, but I firmly believe that mankind should explore the rest of the universe. That belief is grounded in the hundreds of hours I spent immersed in the events of the American space program from its beginnings in the 1960s through the Space Shuttle program and on to the present day with the International Space Station. I was never an astronaut, but I learned this lesson – and other worthy lessons – from my observations of the space program.
How else is a speaker like a scientist? We, too, can start with an hypothesis and find the evidence that supports it. Ever read a quote from Shakespeare or Confucius and accept it without thinking? Instead, treat it like an hypothesis. Ask if it really is best “to thine own self be true.” What experiences in your life confirm for you that this is a deep and powerful truth? Can you tell a story to support this?
Maybe you have experiences that call this or some other quote into question. Scientists do that all the time, too. No doubt you’ve heard of Copernicus, or Galileo: they were doubters who changed the course of history.
Any scientist worth their lab coat has probably doubted some other scientist’s work from earlier and set out to disprove it. That’s one way to develop your skill as a scientist and to build a professional reputation. Maybe that’s the kind of scientist you need to be, especially if you’re something of a natural skeptic.
What do you see through your keyholes that will be the kernel of your next great speech?