Document Type

Public Speaking Events


The negative reaction of sports writers to Tiger Woods' February 19, 2010 comeback press conference echoed three terms: "insincere," "coached" and "robotic." In fact, the latter criticism caught on with the online public to the extent that a "Tiger Woods is a Robot" fan page is featured on Facebook, while an episode of "Tiger Woods Robot Theatre" can be viewed on Youtube. Tiger's press conference media accounts, a performance analysis of Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, and an overview of the latest business presentational texts suggest that nothing will disengage an audience more quickly than a robotic delivery style. Perhaps the only character that audiences find more appalling than a robotic human is a nearly-human robot.

The "uncanny valley" is a place where movies go to die. Films like "Beowulf," "Final Fantasy," and "The Polar Ex-press" all bombed, at least in part, because of the uncomfortable feeling erected by characters that are nearly human, but not quite. Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, coined the term "uncanny valley," borrowing from Freud's notion of the uncanny and referring to the valley created when one plots a character's believability (or realism) on a graph with audience acceptance. When a character appears to be almost real, but not quite, audiences find them to be disturbing, unsettling and unnatural. This revulsion referred to as "the uncanny valley" has also been demonstrated in Macaque monkeys ("The Uncanny Valley," 2010). So robots, avatars, zombies, video games characters, animated personae and Hollywood creative blends share the same fate as Tiger Woods and Al Gore, for a similar reason, audiences find what is not quite real to be "creepy."

Forensic public address risks falling into an uncanny valley of its own creation. The distance between public address and forensic public address is confounding and disturbing. Students of public speaking exposed to forensic public ad-dress for the first time invariably notice the difference between contest speaking and effective public speech in other contexts. And while some of this gap can be explained by pedagogical goals and methods, much of it appears to be rooted in insular, unsubstantiated performance norms and fads. When college students respond to national final round speakers, arguably the nation’s brightest and best, with phrases resembling the sports writers' criticism of Tiger Woods—"insincere," "coached" and "robotic"—then it is time to both explain the nature of "the uncanny valley" and explore methods for bridging the gap between what forensic educators are teaching and what forensics educators should be teaching in public address events.

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