Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev and decorum mismatch

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev has featured several times here, indeed my critique of the speech he delivered at the 2008 India Today Conclave has attracted more views than any other posting on this blog.

He delivered a talk at TED India 2009.

Ted talks, as uploaded online, have a distinct style; and generally it’s a good one. It’s not that they edit out introductions and preambles; it’s not that they are professional and slick enough to have a wandering camera to supplement the fixed front-of-house shots; it’s not just that they dress the stage appropriately to the talks; it’s not that in the video editing they tend to cut away completely to any slides being shown; etc.  It’s more a general feel that comes out in the pace and rhythm of the 18 minute talks. They come across as tight and business-like, which is ideal for nearly all speakers.

I spotted some months ago that Vasudev had delivered a TED talk, and I delayed watching it because I feared a clash of decorum, that TED’s house-style rhythm would be incompatible with Vasudev’s. The latter has a very particular decorum: he habitually begins with some chanting that sets a very slow, almost somnolent and very unTED-like, pace for what follows.

I was right to be anxious. Vasudev is an outstanding speaker, and with outstanding speakers I get picky as hell – that’s my job. Here the tuning of his engine seems constantly to be slightly wrong.

Did he omit his habitual chanting, or did he include it and they edited it out of the video? I shall stick my neck out and suggest the former. Chanting would have established a more Vasudev-style rhythm.

It is uncharacteristic for him to begin with such an aggressively overt gag. Furthermore, as every trainee of mine knows, it is a mistake – I haven’t the space here to explain why. The tittering while the gag is being recounted sounds nervous, and the laugh at the punchline is rather lacklustre. That is all entirely predictable.

The link from the gag to his theme is slightly clunky, as is the rest of the talk, and the decorum throughout is wrong for the content.

The gears are grinding: he is not himself. Watch that speech I mentioned in the first paragraph, or watch this one (wherein he begins at 2:50), and you witness an inner stillness that makes you hang on every word. Not only is he here galloping along too quickly, look how much he is fidgeting: his feet never stop moving. I have no problem with speakers who move, but Vasudev is not a fidget.

Do you hang on every word, or does your mind wander?  Mine wanders, and it is so frustrating! His subject and message fascinate me, but still I have to fight to stay with him. This is entirely because of decorum mismatch.

Some twenty years ago I recorded a radio interview with the late English comedy writer, Frank Muir. He recalled a book promotion speaking tour that took him to the USA. Before his first talk the American booking agent urged him to add some zip and pzazz to his delivery. Frank, realizing that zip and pzazz were not to be found in his armoury, delivered as he would have done to an English audience – and stormed them!

You have to be yourself. You are the best, most interesting, most engaging, most compelling you can be when you are being yourself. If your style is incompatible with that of the conference organizer, one of you has to give way. If you are as good as Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev it should definitely not be you.

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