Friday, October 27, 2006

An Experiment in Giving – Basic Speech #7 (Applying Your Skills)

by Gege C. Sugue

This “impromptu prepared” speech is an experimentation in giving. The inspiration for this is the article in our newsletter that was written by medical Doctor Morton Orman.

Dr. Orman prescribes solutions to the fear of public speaking by giving 10 principles to keep in mind. Two of these principles struck me where it hurt.

Principle no. 9 talks about the concept of over-preparation and how it can make our speeches worse. Principle no. 4 states that the main purpose of public speaking is giving.

My system rebelled against these two principles. They seemed to be anti-theses to my own public speaking principles.

Why is this doctor knocking preparation? I love preparation. For me, it is a requisite to success. And I make sure I invest time in preparing for my speeches and training workshops. I research diligently, prepare voluminous high-impact slides, polish my notes, and prepare a full-on word-by-word script for my delivery. I rehearse obessively, and then when I deliver I give it my all. I hate it when I get something wrong. I castigate myself when I forget something. I can be really unforgiving to myself.

And now, I need to grapple with the idea that maybe I prepare too much. So tonight’s speech is the experimentation. I stand here, two weeks premature for my scheduled speech, 8 hours after deciding I’m going to take the free speaking slot, no script, just a hastily scrawled outline. This experimentation will prove or disprove Dr. Orman’s theory.

Yet, I have to ask my evaluator, Ed, to still judge me based on the manual.

Because I am not endorsing mediocrity or substandard performance. I want to see this principle work. I am the last person to encourage you not to prepare. Preparation is our responsibility to our audience, our clients, the people and companies we represent. But preparation is meant to liberate us, give us confidence, enable us to deliver speeches and training programs with sheer joy.

Preparation is not meant to enslave us to perfection.

As to Dr. Orman’s idea that public speaking is about giving something of value to your audience, rather than getting something out of the deal, it’s a new way of thinking for me. For me, public speaking is about getting paid to do a good job. It’s about achieving excellence. Being the best. Having outstanding evaluations. It’s about impressing the audience.

And then two days ago, I had to train a group of Persons With Disabilities (PWD). And as I was preparing for the workshop, I realized I could not use most of the interactive gimmicks I had in mind, because of the participants’ physical limitations. I also had to keep the lessons basic to help those whose language proficiency is rudimentary.

No gimmicks, just the basics – these restrictions forced me to take a hard look at the program I was developing. And then it dawned on me that I am teaching these people to write letters, proposals, reports, not so they can prepare glossy brochures, or so that they can increase their profit and grow to be a top 500 company. These learners need to write letters and proposals that can enable blind people to work for more than one day a week, or help a person in a wheelchair get from Cubao to Makati in a wheelchair. So as I started the training day, I prayed. Normally, I would pray, “Lord, help me do this job well.” This time, my prayer was, “Lord help me help these learners learn something that will make their lives better.”

Normally, I’d end a training day tired, with just enough energy to wait for the praise. Sometimes I’d get the praise I crave for, and I’d get an emotional high. Sometimes, I would get a rather cold response and I would feel depressed. Either way, I would be physically spent, exhausted. But last Tuesday, when I trained to give, not to get, I finished the day, fulfilled, energetic, and emotionally rewarded.

The experiment worked.

So the two main points of this speech are these: One is that preparation is our friend, not the enemy that slaves us. Two, public speaking is not about getting praise, respect, fame, money. It is about giving something of value to your audience.

There are two things I encourage you, then, to do.

The first one, in one word is: Speak!

You have something to say that is of value to someone. Speak up. You have what it takes – your voice, your body, your mind – the 3 components that enable you to express yourselves. And in Toastmasters, you are given ample talk time. Don’t waste these opportunities. Speak. Do not worry about getting it perfect. Do not be afraid of messing up. Share what is in your heart. Don’t stay in your little corner whining about how bad this world, this life is. Move yourself. And move others with your ideas. Just speak.

The second thing I want you to do is this: Let other people speak.

Last night I had a conversation that revealed to me just how cruelly unfair, uneven, the public speaking playing field is. Some of us, and I consider myself one of those, are just blessed. Blessed with wealth, education, social privilege, travel opportunities, and so we’ve grown to be articulate, comfortable, confident in speaking a foreign language.

Some are just plain gifted, with fathers and grandfathers who were orators, politicians, writers, and educators. So the communication genes run through them.

But some just do not have all the breaks. Some come from environments where speaking is not encouraged. Some were educated by teachers who cannot even speak one grammatically correct sentence. Some have funny intonations, regional accents. Some are timid because they have been told they are not good enough and their opinions don't matter. Some have too much excess energy that drives them to over gesticulate.

But so what? These do not disqualify them from the right to speak. I urge you to let them speak.

Yes, we have standards. But standards are meant to help us set visions for self-improvement. They are meant for us to help others become better. They are not meant to be use for judging who can speak and who cannot, who can start a Toastmasters Club and who should not.

ATD, All Together for Development, is an NGO. They do not give out money, nor relief goods. They provide the venue for the poorest of the poor, the ones with the least power and the smallest voice, to speak out. Aling Tita, who is so poor she lives in a cemetery, was given a chance to speak in New York to an audience that included UN Director General, Kofi Anam. I don’t know what she said. I don’t know if her grammar was perfect or her diction was correct. But her speech moved Kofi Anam to tears. And I am willing to bet he was moved not by a grammatically correct speech, but by a message that came from the heart.

Friends, I encourage you to speak. It's your right, privilege, gift. It's your responsibility. And more importantly, open your eyes, ears, hearts, minds, and please let other people speak.

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