Oh yeah, just tell me Pat Nixon isn’t enjoying speaking at the Republican National Convention. Bonus points for awesome use of arms. (Wikimedia Commons).
Unlike many people, who would rather be flensed, drawn and quartered and have their heads stuck on poles for the benefit of the peasants’ amusement, than give a speech, I am one of those loudmouths who can’t get enough of public speaking. I mention that because tomorrow I am giving a speech on a topic that means a lot to me, “How to Become Your Own Chronic Pain Hero,” at the Women’s Rights Information Center on 108 West Palisade Avenue, Englewood, NJ. It’s at 10:30 and it’s free and you’re all welcome!!
Anyway, I was inspired to write about speechmaking (and trust me, this will get to the prompty part in its good time) because of one of the responses I got to my first Prompt. Toby Stein wrote about how she was feeling—which was hot and tired about a speech she was giving at her temple. She wrote, “I think I’m game, or will be after tomorrow. Right now, am a dishrag, having JUST finished my July 4th Shabbat sermon. I am going to sit without the pages in my hands, and do nothing for a while. I see nothing, except me stuck up on the bimah tomorrow having forgotten to take up a cup of water. My body feels limp–maybe I’ll walk in the hallway instead of sitting until I come to again. Aside from limpness or limidity or limpy, my body feels ready to do this thing tomorrow. Shabbat shalom to the everyone, whatever religion they do or choose not to practice.” (Oh, and by the way, she has a Web site, too– http://nobodysgod.blogspot.com/) And she survived her speech!
When I first heard of the public speaking club Toastmasters, I thought, “That’s for me!” I was too busy at the time with my little ones. So, when the children turned teenish and mysteriously wanted to sleep more than they wanted to watch Saturday morning cartoons or play hideous games, I went to my first Toastmasters meeting. I wasn’t sure what to expect at 9:00 at the local public library. I mean, it kind of sounded like the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. Did they have strange rituals? Was it going to be embarrassing? Was I going to be embarrassing? But to my surprise, the group—a highly diverse and international group with many accomplishments under their belts, was not only extremely welcoming, but I loved it from the beginning just as much as I thought I would. I was introduced as an “honored guest” and asked my opinion at the end. I was hooked.
Toastmasters meetings have a welcome formality and structure. Different people take on different roles—timer, grammarian, general evaluator, speaker, Toastmaster (who leads the meeting), and Table Topics master. The table topics master comes up with a list of questions and everyone is on the hook for an answer of up to two minutes. You never know what question you’re going to get, so the idea is to walk slowly and try to frame a rounded answer when you get up to the podium. This is great practice for job interviews—sometimes if you really can’t answer the question, you can practice your politician skills, i.e.—“Well, John, I don’t really think America is interested in my relationship with that intern, I think we have bigger problems, like getting the economy going.” You realize that when you have the stage, get up there and OWN that sucker.
The second half of a Toastmasters meeting is devoted to 3 prepared speakers and their evaluators, and the evaluations of the timeliness, “ums and aws” and of the meeting in general. Most of the speeches are 5 to 7 minutes, though some run longer. Learning to shape your thoughts to fit into this short timeframe is challenging, and more challenges are always being added. Evaluations are based on specific projects that can include everything from “Using your hands” to “Storytelling” to “making a cold call.” I have had the chance to learn many different speech techniques from trying these different techniques and the careful evaluation of my peers, but I also have gained in another way. I have learned much about listening. I don’t think I’ve been to a single Toastmasters meeting where I haven’t heard something surprising, touching, inspiring, informational, or otherwise worthy. I’ve learned about growing up in India, Hungary, inner-city Newark, about science, about how people overcame obstacles, about the history of sugar making, about the life of the Incas. I have gained immeasurably from the attention, care, information, and personal touches that my fellow Toastmasters put into their work.
I, too, love to blab about whatever interests me at the time, or whatever I’m writing about for money—plate tectonics, the dilemma of what to do when your kid wants to go to an expensive college, Survival: Parent Edition; a tall tale about an amorous ocean scientist and the new cologne-wearing Doctor Chad who pilots her to the bottom of the ocean and gets entangled by a giant squid; about how to throw a cheap but fun party for kids; the Ancient Romans; gay marriage,–it feels as if the more speeches I give, the more subjects there are to talk about!
This last week was a big week for me because I got my Toastmasters Silver Advanced Speaking award. That means that I have given at least 42 targeted speeches (okay, I’ve given about 70 but I have a tendency to forget my manuals. . . ). I feel proud that I was organized enough to accomplish SOMETHING.
So, whether you’re the type who loves to speak up, or who cowers at the thought of it, I challenge you to think of something you feel passionate about, whether it’s the evil of flipflops (got this idea from Slate magazine); why the war of Northern Aggression is a travesty that shattered our fair land forever; Why children need regular beatings in case they decide to do anything bad; why cabbage isn’t just for peasants anymore; anything you feel opinionated about in any way whatsoever.
Prompt #4: Okay, Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Write a speech you’d like to give—whether you’d have the nerve actually to deliver it or not. And it doesn’t have to be long–just ask Abe Lincoln.