This summer, I have gotten to hear from a number of very well known people. I have almost always found them disappointing as speakers when they give public addresses. I generally feel this way when GA’s speak, too: I eagerly await what they have to say, and then feel let down when their talks are rarely more insightful than average. So, I have begun to think about why it is that I usually find less famous speakers more interesting.
A thread that runs throughout many of these ultra-important speakers is that I already know the general gist of their comments before they get up. People who are famous in a field didn’t become famous by being different every time they spoke. To the contrary, many of these people have come to represent an intellectual “brand.” They stand for a certain philosophy, and they got that way by sharing it over and over again. Once they brand themselves with an idea, their audiences ask questions that generally reinforce that idea. Audiences challenge the idea, ask for the idea to be explained, extend the idea, but always focus on the idea.
These speakers therefore live in a kind of echo chamber when on the public stage; the ideas they send out to the world get reflected back on them again and again. Of course they sometimes change their public ideas, but change comes with costs: They are labeled flip-floppers, risk alienating their followers, and defy the self-stereotypes that helped spread their fame in the first place. But, on the whole, being a brand seems to be an effective way of self-marketing so long as the brand attracts a niche.
Do the extent that any of you share my disappointment with famous speakers, how do you explain it?