Got to make a speech?
Hack, definition: At the beginning of last week’s essay I explained the term hack, meaning “crazy, inelegant, but it works.” Like duct tape.
What if you had to do a speech? For a bald white haired person like me, for example, what if you had to speak to a group about the good old days? How can you organize and choose what to put into your talk? Within your allotted time? Especially if you want to speak without being tied to reading your notes word for word, without being tied behind a lectern like a human telephone pole.
You might chew your pencil in agony as you try to write out your speech from beginning to end, and then rehearse in agony too. Or, you can just stick with me, and I’ll tell you a hack.
The road to my good hack is quite the journey, and, as travellers know, you would be wise to enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Today my road takes us past teenage boys and young college graduates
Forget public speaking for now, just enjoy teenage boys wanting to learn more about basketball. At home they would have a hoop at their garage driveway to practise with. Thump-thump-thump. Abruptly, with fanfare, their school puts on a “basketball clinic,” running each night of the week. On Monday night, a coach from a winning provincial team advises them to forget their ego-glory. Instead, take joy in guarding their man very well, even if no one else ever notices the fine job they are doing.
In truth, back at their garage, the boys are unlikely to practise the boxer shuffle with their arms outstretched: Boys prefer the glory of visibly sinking baskets, but OK, at least Monday night is educational.
On Tuesday night their social studies teacher, who once won a Most Valuable Player award for the whole province, teaches them to do dribbling drills around chairs and orange cones. Back at home the boys are unlikely to drag chairs out to their garage driveway, but OK, at least Tuesday night is educational.
For now, forget those boys, and enjoy college graduates on the road to “excellence”: the Greek word is “arete,” and believe me, Arete Physical Comedy troupe, “based in Calgary and known around the world,” put the E in excellence. Arete was three men.
The government of the day had a program to give theatre graduates a summer job: They would be trained by Arete, and put on a play at the end of summer.
On Monday the kids would come up with a comedy sketch such as meeting a dog—shake a paw?
On Tuesday a sketch such as meeting a duck—shake a web foot? Yes, I am making up these examples. And then they would excellently develop and practise these sketches.
I can say “kids,” as did the Arete fellow talking with me one day, because, besides being older and having my own excellence ethic, I had a previous history with Arete. We talked near the end of summer, and he chuckled to tell me the kids were beginning to panic. “What about the play? Oh my God! Shouldn’t we have a script all written, and be practising by now?” …What the kids didn’t realize was that they had been practising; it wouldn’t be hard to put together their various sketches. Like snapping together lego blocks. And they did. How educational.
Their summer performance was good, world class in fact, so good it came back for the olympic arts festival for the winter games of Calgary 1988.
Now, forget about boys and college graduates. Think of your own private “clinic” for public speaking.
On Monday you could look up sane, sensible advice in the library.
On Tuesday you could get prim, proper advice from Toastmasters International.
But today is Wednesday, time for a hack that sounds as crazy as putting chairs in your driveway—but educational.
It’s time to write your speech, maybe a speech on dog training, because nobody trains a duck. Take an 11 by 81/2 inch paper, maybe write your speech title and goal. Maybe. Then fold the paper into four squares—and put it in your pocket.
Then walk out to a big pasture.
Or traipse along the river path. Or sidewalk. Or find space in your kitchen. Or sit in a chair.
My bar tender used to know when I was preparing another presentation: I would sitting there talking to myself, like any self-respecting drunk, then go pace along the floor-to-wall windows. I would do so in a very brightly lit private club for graduate students. Ah, the club was heaven for nerds! Not like some dim, brown bar-cave meant for mundane people. You will probably prefer your kitchen.
Develop your various “talking points” through telling your stories again and again, enjoying the telling. Now, just as you can imagine how, in the good old days, you would “fight and never lose” you may freely imagine your audience smiling and happily benefitting from whatever you have to say. For dog training, besides explaining how would you teach a dog to “shake a paw,” and sit and stay, you might relish telling the story of how your dog was trained to be a ninja! With a mask like the ninja turtles!
At last, before you get bored, it’s time to sit down at table, unfold your paper, and start writing out all your one-word story titles, such as “sit,” “stay” and “ninja.” Number the words in order of importance. Set your clock on the table and start timing. You might only have time for explaining sit and stay, but not ninja. Oh well. Take what you do have time for, and snap it together like lego blocks.
Flip the page over. Write out a beginning and an ending. Or not. Then, when you finally plunk in your speech word-bites, there is almost no time needed to practise. Because you had already practised. Suddenly you look up from your page, with no need to chew your pencil—You’re done.
Concept: You had practised, with slightly different wording each time, as you worked things out, as all the while you were smiling to imagine it going well. No need, then, to worry about word-for-word perfection. Which means, when you deliver the speech in real life, you have less stage fright, and fewer recriminations after unfortunately, just like happened sometimes while practising in the pasture, you would forget your best line. Oops! It happens.
I admit that, in theory, I could practise out my whole speech precisely, perfectly, with primly planned punctuation, word for exact word. (That way the best line would surely be included) The problem? The audience might not be bored, but I sure would be!
Hence my hack.
… In conclusion, to restate my opening in slightly different words… —wait a minute, this isn’t a speech: You can always scroll up to re-read the opening for yourself. But why would you bother?…
In the exciting land of the 1988 olympics,
In a sensible land where people decided against re-hosting the games for 2026,
You might ask: What about the Zen practise of doing the exact same speech a score of times without ever getting bored? Yes, I could do that, because I’m a calm Zen journeyman, but today’s essay is a hack for people who chew pencils.
Zen? It’s nice to like your cult.
Yes, it’s fine to like your Zen, or your communism—OK, not communism—but don’t expect everybody else to join your cult.
Last week at the “Chinese Oscars” (link) a lady who had lived all her life in Taiwan did not want her country to join China. The communists were shocked, shocked I say, to hear that.
You might ask: Yes, but what if the mainland Chinese ever converted to democracy, then would she want Taiwan to merge?
Easily answered: NO. Because then she would still feel love for her own beloved country.