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Does the Paper Make A Difference?

February 3, 2014

The young girl approached the microphone with trepidation and fear. She stood at the pulpit, handwritten remarks in hand. And then she looked up. And like a deer in the headlights realized she couldn’t move.

I like to talk.

Oh sure, I like to write too, but really I enjoy conversation. I realized early in my life that I loved to talk. It took me a lot of years to figure out how to shut up. I’ve written in the past about both my ADD (I Worked From Home Because The Light Turned Red) and my tendency to be completely socially oblivious (The Day I Found Out I Was A Jerk.)

So, when I discovered Toastmasters, it was like the “Rodney Club.” Seriously, it’s a club where you go and practice talking. Well, some people practice. For me, it was a another room to perform. I’ve posted one of the speeches I gave (His Dream My Reality.)

I’m a member of the Olympic Orators. We meet in the old American Fork city hall building every Tuesday at noon.

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(Photo credit: via Wikipedia)

I recently got an award. This is it.

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I got it for giving ten speeches. The Martin Luther King speech was one. I also talked about my family. I talked about hammers. Seriously I did an entire 6 minutes speech on hammers. It went really well. I also talked about books which are works of art vs books that are tools. I even got slightly political talking about my belief that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children in Utah. That one was slightly controversial in conservative Utah.

Some of the speeches went exceptionally well, like the hammers and the Martin Luther King speech. Some didn’t go as well as I would have liked. Most of them were not difficult for me to prepare and present.

Receiving the Competent Communicator award made me think again about certifications. It’s a topic I’ve touched on before. (I Don’t Care What You Know, What Can You Do?) And like that previous discussion, I have to think, “Am I any different than I was before I had this certificate?” I don’t think I’ve grown a lot as a speaker. Not that I can’t, or that I’m Tony Robbins or something, but the process of standing up and giving a 5-7 minute prepared speech every couple of weeks isn’t particularly scary or challenging for me.

It is for some people.

Our family moved across town a couple of years ago and we ended up attending a different church. It’s still the Mormon church, but we were going to church with a whole different group now. After a few months, our family was asked to speak in church. One of my sons and one of my daughters volunteered. And I volunteered. . . of course.

The Sunday came that we were to speak. My 12 year old son went first and did a great job. He’s very confident anyway and was well prepared. He sat down, we all sang a hymn and it was my 13 year old daughter’s turn. I knew she was prepared. She walked to the microphone. Looked out at the 300 people assembled and she froze. She couldn’t go forward and she couldn’t retreat.

It’s an experience I’ve heard others talk about, but never in my life experienced. What was she going to do? What was I going to do?

I knew that if she sat down without delivering her remarks that she would never accept an assignment to speak in church, or probably anywhere else, ever again. I stood up and walked up behind her and gently put my arms around her. We stood there a moment. I pointed to the first word on her hand written speech.

“Say that one,”

I whispered.

“Dear.”

I pointed to the next word.

“Say that one.”

“. . .brothers. . .”

And so it went. I have no idea how long we laboriously made our way through her speech one tortured word at a time. When she finally reached the end, she quickly retreated to her seat and buried her head in her hands; embarrassed at the 300 pairs of, in her mind, accusing eyes.

It was my turn to speak. I had my remarks prepared but I stood there for a moment to collect my thoughts.

“People see the ease and confidence I have standing in front of groups, and they think I’m brave for doing so. I’m not brave. The fact is, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t enjoy being behind a microphone talking to any size group of people.”

I paused to let the next sentence sink in.

“But, what you have just witnessed is probably the bravest thing I’ve ever seen. She was terrified and she volunteered and did it anyway. That’s bravery.”

I can’t even remember what I said that day. I think my remarks were well received. At the end of the meeting my daughter wanted to escape the chapel as quickly as possible, skip the rest of the meetings and go home. No amount of my encouragement could convince her that her talk had gone well.

She was blocked by a quirk of geography. The pulpit where we were sitting was the furthest distance from the doors, which were in the back of the chapel. We had to make our way through the congregation. And it seemed like every single person stopped her and told her how much they had enjoyed and appreciated her remarks. By the time we reached the back of the church, she had gone through a complete transformation. Of course she wanted to stay, and no, Dad, I’ll be fine. See you later.

It seems odd that I received an award for doing something I was already accomplished at. Something that, while enjoyable was not any sort of exceptional work on my part.

It’s really the people like my daughter, who overcome their fears who deserve an award for public speaking.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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