The Content Igniter’s Challenge task for today is to write a story – a story that grabs attention, entertains, and gives the reader some benefit.
Since this blog tries to focus on writing and public speaking, I will begin my story there.
Tonight, as I ready myself to attend the bi-monthly Toastmasters meeting, I wrestle with myself. I have been assigned the job of “ah counter and grammarian.”
I despise the job, not because I can’t or don’t recognize sound filling devices and spoken grammar errors, but because I can pick them out all too well. Some people can speak without sound filling devices and without grammar errors because of their upbringing while others get it in their education. I got it in both places.
It’s easy to recall my upbringing and remember that my parents and grandparents expected us to speak correctly, and if you didn’t, they let you know. Many times not just letting you know something was incorrect, but expecting you to repeat what you said with the correct words.
It was easy to whiz by grammar in elementary school. It was easy to learn correct grammar in junior high school because my teacher believed in oral exams and recitation in alphabetic order. Growing up, I was a “W” so I got to hear the exams and recitations at least 30 times before my turn.
I didn’t take a course in public speaking until my sophomore or junior year of college when I had changed my teaching focus from science/music to science/physical education to English/speech/theater. Quite a leap, right?
I had the fateful opportunity to attend a college with only ONE public speaking teacher. No possible way to escape his expectations. Not the expectation that we compose intelligent content; not the expectation that we present with only an outline; and not even the expectation that we used different kinds of visual aids.
His greatest pet peeve was the phrase “you know.” In the interest of breaking speakers from using this phrase, he expected the audience (our classmates) to take action if we uttered the villainous phrase. If a speaker uttered “you know” within the duration of their presentation, we as an audience were to stand and say to the speaker, “No, we don’t know.”
Our first presentation was an informative speech with at least one visual aid. Thankful that I was not scheduled for the first day of presentations, I listened and watched carefully. It was not the first speaker, nor the second speaker of the day that I learned what rehearsal and perseverance was, but the last speaker of the group.
Beth stood when her name was called and carefully approached the stairs to the lectern. In looking back at her choice of content, she might have chosen something more unknown to the class. Beth, however, had decided to talk about the piano, its parts, and how it worked. It was something she knew. It was something she lived for. However, the class before public speaking was musical composition, and more than one-third of the students in public speaking were also in musical composition.
Introduction delivered – No problem.
Part one of the body of her speech – the parts of the piano. She was at ease. She was making eye contact. She uttered the villainous phrase because, really, a large number of us did know. The professor, however, jumped to his feet and said, “No, we don’t know” while the audience sat glued to our seats. “Excuse me,” he said, “please join with me.” We had no choice.
Now, let me say that an interruption for a novice speaker, and even a professional speaker, can destroy confidence and focus.
When we as an audience sat down, Beth took a breath and began again.
She opened her mouth to continue, but the first words were “You know.”
Audience up. Audience down.
She starts again. “You know.”
Audience up. Audience down.
After a few more false starts, Beth picked up her notes and left the room.
I thought that I would never see her in that class again. If it had been me, I would have been mortified.
The next day Beth was in class, and Beth was the first to speak, and Beth gave a flawless speech.
If it doesn’t work out the first time, or the second, or even the third; keep trying. Try again and again and again and again until you get it right.