“No Message? Stay Home” – An Interview with Alberto Castelvecchi

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First of all I would like to thank you for your availability. I wish to discuss with you in this interview your job as a public speaker, especially regarding your activity as a professor in LUISS. I attended your very interesting public speaking courses in University and I was really impressed by the aims, the techniques and the tasks of a public speaker. As a first question, I would like to ask you to briefly explain what “public speaking” means, focusing on your personal background and, if possible, on historical and well-known examples.

Since my University studies I have always been fascinated by the oral cultures and the refined communication skills of the ancient Greeks – an incredible legacy that went down for generations: first, through the Romans, then across two Millennia of Christian Homiletics (i.e. sermons, evangelism, etc.) and then modern political speeches, from the Renaissance down to contemporary American public speaking.Today we need to get back to the roots of oral communication, not only in public oratory, but in more tactical abilities like negotiation, crisis communication, persuasion, media training etc. We all want to be more confident in our communication skills, in every moment of our life. This is why I proposed that we should give all students at LUISS a chance: that is, simply put, to practice their first steps as public communicators since their University years. We started the programme as a tentative experiment 6 years ago, and now it’s running full-fledged with some 500 trainees per year. To me, “public speaking” means a lot more than “speaking in public”. In a way, we are always “public” when we communicate, even in a small conversation circle. And, concerning the word “speaking”, we actually
speak through many more channels than verbal language: body language, personal touch, image setting, relationship building, emotional intelligence, and many more.

One concept that really fascinated me during your lessons is assertiveness. What does it mean? Is it only a formal technique or could it involve a deeper level of development of our arguments and way of thinking?

Assertiveness is the gentle art of interacting with people without hurting them. It is the ability to get in touch with our own emotions, to express ourselves freely, without damaging the relationship with others. Assertiveness is not only a “mindset”, but also an attitude of our hearts. It puts away the “blame game” and welcomes “listening and bringing the terms to an end”. It is very complicated to be one hundred percent assertive, but every little step towards it will be worth the effort.

We live in a mass media society and we are deeply and continuously bombarded by public speeches. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand if we are persuaded by the arguments or, rather, by the rhetoric skills of the speaker. May you give us some relevant tools for understanding these declarations and talks?

You will be surprised to know this: the more I work with words, the less I trust them. The ultimate suggestion is: carefully listen to what they say, but wisely judge them by what they do. Consistency, Action, Reliability and Accountability are the real qualities of a good public speaker. Communication without Consistency is to be labelled as “Manipulation”, or “Propaganda”, or (if you prefer the old Soviet doctrine) “Disinformatija”.

I would like to thank you again for you kindness, and ask you, as a final question, to give us some tips for our future public speeches, in university, in conferences or at work. Is it necessary to act? Is it required to change something of our normal, everyday behavior?

Until some years ago, Public Speaking handbooks boldly heralded the mantra “if you want to speak in public, you must get out of your comfort zone”. Today the philosophy of communication goes exactly the opposite way: you communicate at your best only when you feel comfortable and you do not alter your basic personality type and relationship style. Even an introvert can become an excellent communicator without “faking it”. We help our clients with body language awareness and also with self-perception. Believe me, sometimes they join our courses with a false self-inflicted predicament, that is, “I have something wrong, I must be fixed”. We try to convert that in: “Basically I am ok and I have all I need to express myself”. Some simple techniques will indeed prove very useful: people approach communication by wondering “how many things should I say?”. We teach them to refocus on “What is my message? If I haven’t got one, better stay Home”. Yes, definitely so: when you have a clear message, and you are honest and consistent with it, you are very close to being a master communicator.

Arnaldo Mitola

Un ringraziamento a Luca Sicignano

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Alberto Castelvecchi II

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