The art of “speechifying”

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Yesterday morning, I arose, excited to be able to give the speech at my school’s commencement. I was prepared, eager and even on time. Yesterday evening, it was over and all my nightmares about showing up late, improperly dressed, or otherwise unprepared were proved unfounded.

Except the one where you don’t have all of your speech…that one I made come true. It’s ridiculous, really. I have taught English, speech and drama for years. I have lectured students on the things they must do and among them is, always check to see that you have all of your speech. And then yesterday, I turned smoothly from my second-to-last page to my last page and discovered a bare podium instead. I failed to make certain I picked up all the pages!

I like to think that I am a very good innovator, that I think well on my feet, but no matter how many times I practice something, if I turn the page and it’s not there, my mouth dries up and my tongue adheres to the roof of my mouth and when I do get it disconnected, something not good usually comes out. Fortunately, in the case of Saturday’s speech, I only had a few lines on the last page, so my speech stumble was a short one.

At least I knew it was the last page because I number the pages with large, obnoxious markers to be sure they are easily readable. I once did a presentation on the history of British kings and of course, when I got up in front of everyone, I dropped the notecards I had all over the floor. Because they weren’t numbered and I had to guess at their correct order, I had Henry VIII followed by William the Conqueror and their ancestor was, of course, Elizabeth II! Always number the cards, check!

I used to try to adlib when I was giving a speech. Maybe write down a few general thoughts and then just “wing-it”. However, I discovered that if I just “winged it” I had a tendency to lose my flight plan in the middle and fly right off the cliff. I forgot names, events, dates and worst of all, I frequently looked at my shorthand and forgot completely what I meant when I said things like, “make eye contact when you discuss intensity.” Eye contact with whom and what was I planning to say about intensity? I ended up talking intensely about eye contact…not that this had anything to do with the subject!

I always tried to be prepared with my appearance. I remember a story Carol Burnett told about dressing for a performance in the dark and getting on stage to discover that the seams in her stockings were running up the front of her legs. I thought, How ridiculous! At least my appearance is always good. Soon after that, I delivered the eulogy at the funeral of a favored aunt. It went well, I held it together and got through the speech fine. I sat down, well-pleased with myself, dropped my hands into my lap…and discovered that my trousers were un-zipped. I took comfort in the fact that the person who would be most amused by this, was the aunt I was honoring.

Possibly the most awkward move I ever made in front of a large audience was definitely done as I was laying the law down as a substitute teacher. I was young, and had trouble managing teenagers, so the study hall I was supervising that afternoon was pretty chatty. After telling them several times to settle down, I finally had enough. “I expect it to be silent in here,” I huffed in my biggest no-nonsense voice, “I don’t want to hear one more sound for any reason!” Crossing my arms and glaring, I began to back towards the desk…and promptly stepped into a metal trash can. For the next several minutes the students in the room were the most silent they had been all hour as they struggled not to laugh while they watched me clunk around with a trash can on my foot. Sometimes you just can’t come back from an infamous performance!

So I enjoyed Saturday’s speech and only had to mumble through a minor glitch in an otherwise fun speech. Maybe someday I’ll get the hang of this “speechifying” thing. In the meantime, I’m going to be a little more careful what I take with me and what I have zipped up, when I get in front of an audience!

1 Comment

Filed under Humorous Column

One response to “The art of “speechifying”

  1. Well, your teaching can be punctuated with personal anecdotes which, as a student, would make it refreshing. I always wondered about the past tense of wing it. Now I know. It’s not “wung-it” it’s “winged-it.”

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