Oct 15, 2007

Public Speaking: Hard Work, But Great Fun

At the end of this post, I've included a very rough draft, a long version of the Humorous speech I used for the 2007 Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest. Except for one or two instances of putting, as Andy Griffith used to say, "a little jam on the bread", everything in this speech actually happened. For the contest, I shortened it up to meet time limits, and added quite a few more laugh lines. (Sorry, no peeking at the good stuff, I might want to use it in another speech!)

The shorter version I ended up using for the contest ended up at about 375 words, or approximately 6:15-6:45 minutes in length. The speech time limit for the contest was 5-7 minutes.

.My practice times were fairly consistent, 6:30-6:45 for the great majority of the practice runs. 10 out of my approximately 50 practice runs ran well over 7:30, and this was the area I thought I needed the most discipline with, because if you go over 7:30, you are disqualified. However, each speech I did in competition timed out in the 6:30-6:40 range. Very consistent!

As I previously mentioned, I would estimate that I practiced this particular speech at least 50 times. It was also the first Toastmasters speech I wrote out and memorized word for word (I usually speak on subjects I'm very familiar with and just use an outline). Memorizing content word for word was necessary so I could concentrate on variations in timing, voice pitch and volume, word emphasis, and pauses.

In addition, it was necessary to try out various body movements and facial expressions until a perfect match of content, voice, and physical movement came together just right to make for an effective speech. It's very tough to make a speech look natural and unrehearsed! Public speaking is not something that comes naturally for me. At least not the fine tuning. It takes a lot of work, and trial and error.

Do I get nervous before any speech? Not at all. If there is a time I get a little nervous, it's those few seconds between being introduced and starting the speech. However, once I begin speaking, it's as if time is standing still, or slows down. You become aware of everything at once.. audience reaction, pitch, rate, body movement, etc. Speaking in front of an audience for me is one of those timeless experiences. I'm not doing a speech . I am being in the moment. A kind of Zen thing, perhaps?

Believe me, it wasn't always that way. When I first began doing sales/marketing all those many years ago, the mere THOUGHT of speaking in public was enough to send me to the men's room for one form of panicked, frantic bodily purging or another. After a few years, thousands and thousands of cold calls, years of face to face presentations, and it's not a big deal anymore. But I absolutely sympathize with anyone with a fear of public speaking. I remember that fear ever so well! And I still HATE cold calling with a passion.

If you're still reading this, you probably have a good notion that I have a lot of fun with Toastmasters, speechifyin' and such. And you would be absolutely right! It's a blast.

Anyway, here's the long version, in very rough draft form, of the speech:

"Family Fun Fantasy"

"Love, exciting and new… come on board, we're expecting you! Remember TV's Love Boat? What about those cruise ship TV commercials for that PERFECT FAMILY VACATION? Families having fun, showing off those slow motion smiles. The happy teenagers on the jet-skis. Their parents, having ditched their kids, enjoying a moonlight supper, making moon eyes at each other. Fellow Toastmasters and guests, how many of you would like to go on a vacation like this?

Like those of you who raised your hands, I once BELIEVED-AH in the FANTASY-AH, of the perfect family vacation. So my wife and I rented a huge 6 bedroom beach house overlooking the Pacific Ocean We invited both our mothers, our two teenaged children, and my wife's teenaged niece.

My mom was a tough sell. At first I thought she was a vacation infidel. But she was a smoker. And the beach house was non-smoking. No can do, she said. But I BELIEVED-UH, in the FANTASY-UH, of the perfect VACATION-UH, and I converted her with all the fervor my true beliefs could muster. Ok, that was a big lie. I bought her off by promising her the big beach house master bedroom with the big screen TV and the French doors which led to the patio overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

The big day arrived. Everyone showed up at our perfect beach house, ready for the perfect family vacation. And then, my wife and I were ASSAULTED with…. ENTERTAIN US! Everyone, at the same time, DEMANDED instant entertainment from my wife and I. Our perfect vacation had turned into… a TV sitcom! I felt just like Homer Simpson! But hey, I was on familiar ground here. Homer Simpson! One of my role models! I knew exactly what to tell my family!

"We're not your cruise directors! Every one's responsible for finding their own beer and donuts! And ALL of YOU, I ORDER YOU! You're going to have fun whether you like it or not!!!

My speech worked! They all shut up! For a good 5 minutes, anyway. The entire house then demanded "FEED US!" Now that was more like it! Homer Simpson would approve! "..mmm donuts…."

So I took all the teenagers with me to the local Safeway. We piled the shopping cart up with beach house food. We were finally having family fun! At the checkout counter,I handed my debit card to the cashier. And then I saw it in the cashier's eyes. I'd seen that look before on the Dr. Phil show! The cashier's eyes said, "You're one of those deadbeat dads, aren't you?"
The cashier handed my debit card back to me and said with an ice cold voice, " I'm sorry, sir, your card has been declined. Perhaps you'd like to use an alternate form of payment". I begged the kids for all their cash, their nickels and dimes and quarters. We put some of our groceries away, paid cash for the rest, and retreated back to the perfect beach house.

I couldn't figure out where all my money went! Then it hit me! Back home, 85 miles away, on our kitchen counter, I'd left a stack of checks and a deposit slip! I'd forgotten to go to the bank before we left for the beach! No automatic deposit for me! I'm the guy who didn't switch from dial phones to touchtone until 1987! I'm the guy who stuck with his 8-track tapes until 2001! Automatic deposit! Not on your life!

I drove all the way back home, alone, to deposit the checks, and then I drove back. Alone. But not defeated! No sooner had I returned to the perfect vacation house when my wife's niece became very sick.

My wife said, "I'm sorry, honey, where does it hurt?"
"My stomach"
"What have you had to eat today?"
"Just some Doritos."
"How many?"
"Umm… the whole bag."
"What else have you had to eat today?"
"A few Oreo cookies…"
"How many?"
"All of them"
"Anything else?"
"That quart of Haagen-Dazs ice cream"

My wife, in the most sympathetic voice said, "I'm sorry, sweetie, that you're not feeling well. Maybe next time you shouldn't eat so much junk food at once". What was the next sound we heard? The niece. On the phone. To her mother. "MOM! Come get me! They're being MEAN to me!"

My faith in the perfect vacation had been dented, but not destroyed! A little bonding time with our teenage son and daughter would solve everything! A little bonding, a little quality time, we're back in business! I took our kids out to the beautiful sunny beach. It was really windy, so we decided to build a wind break from driftwood logs.

Fast forward through an hour of family bonding and building! We now sat inside most perfect three sided windbreak ever! A perfect family memory was forming right before my eyes! That's when my daughter said, "Dad, this stinks." My son said, "Yeah dad. This whole thing stinks."
I said, "What do you mean, this stinks! I thought we were all having fun!"
My daughter said, "No dad, it STINKS! It stinks like dog poop in here.!"
My son took a stick and poked in the sand below us. "Dad", he said, "We're sitting on top of Dog Poop Mt. Everest". But I was still a true believer. I went into denial and said, "It's not so bad". My daughter, retching, said, "I'm outta here". My son said "see ya dad, love ya,". Off they went. Leaving me alone, in my perfect beach windbreak. Sitting on top of the perfect pile of dog poop.

My faith shaken, I walked alone back to the perfect beach house. Maybe a talk with my mom would cheer me up. I opened the door to mom's bedroom and saw. . . . my mom, inside our non-smoking perfect beach house, sitting next to the bedroom window, beneath a "no smoking" sign, smoking a cigarette just like a 14 year old schoolgirl trying not to get caught by her parents.

I became a vacation heathen on the spot. I exploded! MOM! This is a non-smoking house! I'll lose my $500 deposit!" Mom looked at me, with big puppy dog eyes, and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't know smoking wasn't allowed".

Yes, in many ways, this was a fantasy vacation. The kind of fantasy vacation that Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa Simpson take.

My wife and I. We enjoyed our fantasy vacation. We enjoyed it so much, we went on another vacation the next year. BY OURSELVES!

(copyright 2007 Robert Canfield. Use prohibited without permission)

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