Famous Programmers Hating on Speaking

I recently read an essay by Paul Graham on how much he likes writing better than speaking:

Having good ideas is most of writing well. If you know what you’re talking about, you can say it in the plainest words and you’ll be perceived as having a good style. With speaking it’s the opposite: having good ideas is an alarmingly small component of being a good speaker.

…Audiences like to be flattered; they like jokes; they like to be swept off their feet by a vigorous stream of words. As you decrease the intelligence of the audience, being a good speaker is increasingly a matter of being a good bullshitter. That’s true in writing too of course, but the descent is steeper with talks.

And this from a quick profile of Linus Torvalds:

In fact, Linux’s creator doesn’t really even like to talk about technology. He’d rather write. “I think it’s so much easier to be very precise in what you write and give code examples and stuff like that,” he says. “I actually think it’s very annoying to talk technology face-to-face. You can’t write down the code.”

Something about Graham’s view doesn’t sit well with me. Let’s say you have a great idea. A complicated, great idea. Which medium maximizes the audience’s reception: great writing or great speaking?

I’d say it is undoubtedly great speaking. By a country mile.

Which one maximizes the size of the audience? Writing, of course.

Some might say that to learn complicated ideas you need to just stop and think sometimes. But I’d say that each time you need to do that you’ve found a spot where the writer/speaker utterly failed. They lost you. They skimmed over a key point or lost empathy with their audience. Or maybe you just got distracted.

Speaking is a more powerful tool than writing. A richer medium with which to educate, entertain or simply distract dummies.

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