A GENTLE WARNING
One of the things I love about my eldest child, Louisiana (that's her real name—she'd be livid if I deprived her of the credit), is that she almost never follows the instructions on her building and crafting sets. Boxes and boxes of Legos, origami kits, jewelry crafting, Magna-Tiles, you name it—while they all come with detailed step-by-step directions that promise a perfectly homogenized execution of a spaceship or friendship bracelet, my daughter, Lou Lou, shows no interest at all in making something in the manner expected of her. I admit that when I find myself cleaning up threads and minuscule wheel parts—too tired to goad or bribe her—I often discover the tiny instruction booklet discarded on the floor, and stuff it back in the box hoping that maybe one day she might commit to the episodic process of making a toy or art piece from start to finish. The appeal of this is nothing more than a guaranteed period of quiet and focus, because when she improvises you never know how long she'll keep herself busy. She's the quintessential first child.
But in many ways I greatly admire Lou Lou's tenacity and rebellion. It may just be in her blood—my side of the family is a bunch of stubborn men and women who like to do things their own way. 'Who says I can't do it like this??!' My mother has her own method for everything. She even sometimes pronounces words in a way only she can understand. But she also thinks her own way is the only and correct way. 'Why would you not do it this'' way?!' I like to think Lou Lou has found the sweet spot right in the middle. She knows instinctively that striving to follow someone else's template or prescribed method of doing something stifles her own freedom of expression and problem-solving capabilities, but she is equally aware that aspiring to correctness leads to unimaginative and uncreative outcomes with little space for outside voices or authentic connection.
Oh, who am I kidding? She probably just can't be bothered to flip the pages and find the right pieces.
In this book, however, I will manifest this optimistic interpretation of Lou Lou's Lego building strategy. I don't believe that there can exist a step-by-step guide to a pursuit as idiosyncratic, artistic, and human as crafting and delivering an exceptional speech for any occasion. To truly excel in this area is simply not as easy as piecing together a few bricks to make something that someone next door would do the very same way. The mark of a successful speech is one that offers the audience something new. How could there possibly be a how-to? How could there be a step-by-step? There can only be, therefore, a how-'I,' and in this case, while I won't go as far as annointing myself the arbiter of correctness, in sharing my method I will make this promise to you: I will take you on an entertaining journey and leave you in a place where the next time someone asks you to make a speech, you'll know exactly where to start, what to strive for, and how to get there. And the speech will be a damn sight better than if you hadn't read the book.
"Of all the talents bestowed upon men, none is so precious as the gift of oratory. He who enjoys it wields a power more durable than that of a great king. He is an independent force in the world. 'Abandoned by his party, betrayed by his friends, stripped of his offices, whoever can command this power is still formidable.'" - WINSTON CHURCHILL
"What he said, but the less chauvinistic version." —VICTORIA WELLMAN
One of my favorite clients, Sherri, an astronaut whose account of going to space makes me cry like a baby every time, once told me that GPS coordinates were one of the few things the world can agree on. I'd say there's another thing: the universal desire not to completely suck when we speak in public.
Feelings range from the kind of deep-seated, clinically diagnosed social anxiety that makes the prospect of standing in front of a roomful of people equivalent to being waterboarded, at one end of the spectrum, to the other end, where exhibitionists actively seek out the spotlight and fantasize about a standing ovation. And then there are the people in between who don't particularly relish the opportunity but would probably choose it over, say, being stung by a bee, because they recognize that getting better at public speaking, while potentially just as uncomfortable, has an outsized payoff.
Whatever negative feelings the prospect of speaking may trigger, you pretty much have two options. One is to try to remedy the fear by addressing the psychological drivers. For this you might consult a coach. Or a pharmacist. The other is to improve the content so that when you step up to the podium or the microphone and the heart palpitations begin to subside, you have something fucking great to say.
Though I usually warn people against starting a speech with the apologetic disclaimer "I'm a bit nervous," I do recall granting this wish to one client, but not because she was making excuses.
'I'm sure that I'm not the first parent to say this here, but it's really hard to describe how I feel today. Perhaps I can explain it like this: I took a public speaking class back in college, and I dropped out because every time it was my turn to speak, I thought I was gonna die. Right now I feel completely the opposite—my heart isn't failing, it's exploding. I look around the room and all I see are faces of people who know and love my daughter and who have in some way helped her get here today. If I could hand out a stone for all those I need to thank, I'd have to hire a forklift to carry them. And the nearest rental company is seventy-six miles away—I checked it out.'