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The Voice

May 16, 2010 | 7 Comments

Hello Garrison,
I am taking a public speaking course in college. I recently saw you give a speech in Jacksonville, FL. I am wondering about the rhythm of your delivery, the perfectly placed pauses and slow tempo — is this something that you worked on developing, or did it just come naturally?

Amy P.
Palm Coast, FL


There's nothing natural about standing on a stage in front of a couple thousand Floridians and talking to them about your hometown in Minnesota. In real life, Amy, I talk very little, and so a performance like that one is completely unnatural for me. I'm a writer, don't you know, not a comedian. What I am trying to do is to channel the voices I grew up with, namely my Aunt Eleanor's and my Uncle Lew's and various others, and do a condensed speeded-up version of kitchen talk as I recall it from long ago. My people didn't listen to the radio. They talked and told stories. They amused themselves through the Depression and dust storms and wartime by sitting around a kitchen table covered with oilcloth and drinking weak coffee and nibbling on caramel rolls or banana bread and talking a blue streak. Whatever cadence I have in my head is something I inherited.


Nice answer to an intriguing question. I'm curious if the live "lecture" delivery is slower than the radio one?

I know on the radio shows I have seen you do (in person, in SF, twice - I was the guy in the wheelchiar that almost ran into you after the show. I'm on my feet again now!) you have scripts; do you use a script in lectures? If not, perhaps thinking of the next thing to say is what gives those delicious lingering pauses... If you DO use a script, are you tryng to read your handwriting as I would be?

I've been remastering some old radio programs, interviews I engineered in the 80s and 90s for New Dimensions, and the only person more thoughtful and "pausy" that you is Ram Dass, before his stroke. Are you meditating as he does? You look a bit like him too, just a bit.

Be well,


That's a really interesting question - and I wonder if the observation about "writer not comedian" is more pertinent than it looks.

There's a very clear difference in pace between the two and whenever I've listened to Garrison (sorry to talk about you like you're not here! :) ) on the radio it's always felt like being read to, not being spoken to.

That's not a bad thing in this instance! :) It might mean the whole 'mindset' issue is very germane indeed.



Yes, very pleasant delivery. Some actors would call this 'pacing'. Remember Adam West (batman in the 60's tv)...his is a very effective intonation. You canĀ“t help but stop and listen. There is an underlying element, as well, of the methods used by hypnotists; a trance inducer. Great music generates momentom in its pauses.

Dear Garrison,
Because I'm a public radio junky I listen to a fair amount of interesting (to me) talk radio shows. When I'm driving with my kids (ages 8 and 16), most of the time they tune out this radio talk and either read their books or listen to the ipod or sometimes try (often unsuccessfully) to talk to me. When your voice comes on, however, they are immediately drawn in. I love these opportunities to bring the kids out of their own little world into my "grown-up" one. On second thought, maybe it is you and me entering theirs.

My dear Garrison, all I can say is that you are the best storyteller I have ever heard and hope to hear! You are truly amazing and what a gift to have!
Just keep letting it roll from that great brain of yours. Sincerely, Swanee Showah

Yes, Garrison has a nice Sunday afternoon visiting cadence when you were expected to stop by friends or family's homes for unannounced visits, Toward the ending the pace slows in conversation until someone says, " I suppose we'd better go home, we've got milking to do." and the host's Aladdin lamp is being lit for the evening.

I just wanted to say that I have been spell bound by your voice & thoughts Garrison. I was listening to Prairie Home companion here in Seal Beach, Ca on public radio for the first time.I was instantly mesmerized by the entire experience of exquisite music, and the superb story telling of your rich voice and wonderful humor. I was warmed inside like I was with my ancestors who were farmers from the mid west. I stopped what I was doing and listened to the entire show with great appreciation. Thanks, I am a true fan of the show now.

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