Talk the Talk: How to Speak in Public.
Public Speaking! Who ME?
It was on Easter Monday that the frustration of sitting around the house for the third day in a row got to me. I kept looking at the front door and wanting desperately to get out. Where should I go? What would I do? By two in the afternoon my hand was reaching for my white cane and I was tapping my way along the street toward the Community College.
I had been thinking of going to see my former tutor at the Disabled Student Program office for a while. I had not got around to it and I wanted to let her know that I had recently completed all my courses and would be graduating from a four year school officially in May 2011.
In about ten minutes I was walking into the Disabled Students Program office and she came over to say hello. I passed on the news of my forthcoming graduation, she was thrilled.
"Would you be willing to come to a meeting on the 4th May? I need a speaker, someone like you who has been through Disabled Student Services and gone on to get a Bachelors."
I quickly said yes. Unsure of what I would say. But she promised to fill me in over the next few days. I had written a piece for the student newsletter regarding my experiences just before my graduation with my AA degree in 2009. Expanding on that would be the main focus of my talk.
I had ten days to plan from the initial asking.
Given I now had a framework of my initial review of the Disabled Student Program putting together a ten minute speech was fairly simple. I read through my report several times, deciding to move away from the technological base of my initial work to concentrate on the appreciation of the work of my tutor and other members of the staff.
Since my graduation from Community College in May 2009, I had come to realize the effort and support of some very fine people had driven me on to achieve my long term goal.
Even as I pondered the idea, President Obama came on TV and declared a positive affection for his teachers. His words echoed my thoughts, "Technology is fine but it is the teacher who truly inspires."
Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
Tuesday was a day of bringing all the parts together. Being blind makes it hard to use printed or written notes. This ten minute speech would have to be done almost off the top of my head and without the aid of a clock.
I broke the speech down to twenty easily memorable keywords. These would become both places to change references and move to new subjects as well as providing me with an estimated count of time. If I managed to estimate thirty seconds between each keyword I could easily keep to my ten minutes.
Having been told their would be two speakers, I just hoped to go first. That way if I were bad, the audience would have the second speaker to forget me and if they were worse than me they might remember me as being better than I really was. Such things are important to the novice public speaker, and I definitely consider myself a novice at this kind of motivational speaking.
The Maiden Speech
Wednesday arrived and my tutor came to collect me. I asked about the other speaker.
"Ah! Bad news they are a no show."
"Oh! I'm it then?"
My heart began to race as we walked to the College Library. Rows of chairs had been placed facing a table at the head of the room. Slowly I could hear the noise of people taking their places. A former professor of mine came over to shake my hand and then we talked a while until the meeting was called to order and I sat, listening to the senior Advisor introduce me. Almost embarrassed I listened as he announced my achievements. I had never considered that my own selfish efforts to gain a degree might be seen as anything to be counted as inspirational.
Introduction over I said my thanks while giving a prayer of thanks for the table I was able to remain seated behind. My knees were shaking and I could feel dozens of pairs of eyes focused upon me.
I thought of my wife's words that morning "Speak Up and enunciate." I sat straight, looked out at a thick light and spoke steadily, a little joke here, more serious there. Thank God they laughed at all the appropriate parts. I rapidly eased. This was becoming wonderful. I could feel the audience come to me. Listening hard, little fidgetting. I counted down my keywords on my fingers. As a ripple of applause went across the Library. I smiled with relief and thanks.
The speech was over we were now scheduled for a question and answer section.
This was my most nerve wrecking part. Would the audience actually ask any questions? Would a lack of questions mean they had been lost and all my imaginings of avid listeners had been just a daydream?
Nervously at first the questions came. First from my tutor, I had expected that. Her intention was only to break the nervous silence. Then slowly one question followed another. The questions followed from my statements, "Oh Thank you God, They had been listening."
In what seemed minutes the head of the Disabled Student Program called the meeting to attention again. The College clock began to chime one o'clock, we had been there over an hour. Students were still coming up to me and shaking my hand and asking me questions, that obviously they had been too nervous to ask publicly.
In the end it was a wonderful experience. I had never dreamed that I could say anything to inspire anyone.
I have tried here to inspire and share my world. But here the faceless viewer is at the far side of my computer screen, the voice I hear is the voice of my computer. There they took me by the hand, their voice was in my ears. This felt so good, so right for me.
I could do it. I could Talk the Talk.
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