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What A Guy Who’s Been Dead For 70 Years Taught Me 

February 3, 2016

Americans love to fight.

I gave a speech yesterday. That’s not unusual. As a member of a Toastmasters club, I give speeches a lot. Yesterday was different. 

All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.

Toastmasters is an organization that is designed to teach you to be a better public speaker. As an organization they have a pretty simple mission statement. The method they use is a combination of directed study, evaluation and repetition. 

Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.

When you first join Toastmasters you are given a manual that lists ten speeches. These speeches build on one another. The first one is the Ice Breaker. You spend 5-7 minutes telling the club about yourself. It can be very intimidating for people. Often this is the first time someone has attempted to stand in front of a group and give a prepared statement. It’s not unusual for people to hide behind the podium. Or hide behind their notes.

Americans play to win all the time. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war.

As the new speaker progresses through the boo, they developed new skills. One of the first big hurdles is Project 3. The speech is designed to help the speaker deliver a particular point of view. What makes it challenging is that the speaker is encouraged to deliver the speech without notes. They can no longer hide behind the paper. It’s great to watch new speakers reach this point. Often you see their confidence take a huge leap. 

The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.

As they move through the initial book, there are constant evaluations. After each speech, another experienced member of the club will take a couple of minutes and evaluate their speech. Evaluations are designed like a sandwich. You first offer encouragement about what the speaker got right. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying, “Great job for making it through without any notes. I can see you were very prepared for today’s speech.” Next, you move to the middle part of the sandwhich. The evaluator offers some suggestions on how to improve. “I noticed you are still standing behind the podium. You might want to move out so there is nothing between you and the audience.” The evaluation wraps up with more praise. “I really enjoyed how you incorporated the various parts of a wheel into your story. Great imagery.” 

Battle is the most significant competition in which a man can indulge. It brings out all that is best and removes all that is base.

As speakers complete the first ten speeches, a couple of important things happen. First, they get a certificate. Constant encouragement is a hallmark of Toastmasters. They also get to pick what types of speeches they want to work on next. There are dozens of topics to choose from. For example, after finishing the first ten, I chose to work on “Storytelling.” The Advanced Communication Series, as it’s called, includes five speeches in each manual. The format is similar in that each speech, or project has a particular purpose. 

Every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a liar. but the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. 

After finishing the Storytelling manual, I moved on to “The Professional Speaker.” Definitely my least favorite manual. But, still it taught me to give longer speeches, to work through the sales process. To create a keynote. After finishing two Advanced Manuals, there’s another certificate. And all along there’s plenty of feedback and encouragement. 

The real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood

I’m now into a manual called “Interpretive Reading.” I’ve been attending my Toastmasters club for over two years now. I was never shy about speaking in the first place, and I’ve gotten better as I’ve worked through the various projects. However, I’m also a known quantity at my club. You cannot give twenty speeches to a group and countless evaluations without letting them get to know you. 

All real heroes are not storybook combat fighters. Every single man in the army plays a vital role. So don’t ever let up. Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant.

Yesterday I gave a speech to my club. In some ways, I did everything “wrong.” I read a printed version of the speech. I stood behind not just a podium, but actually up on a raised platform behind a low desk. I yelled. Well, maybe not so much yelling as talking in a really loud voice. 

We don’t want yellow cowards in the army. They should be killed off like flies. If not, they will go back home after the war, stinking cowards and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the stinking cowards and we’ll have a nation of brave men.

Speeches out of the Interpretive Reading manual are designed to be read, not memorized. I had a friend discourage me from attempting these speeches. “Rodney, you’ll be too tempted to add your own spin to what’s written.” Actually, it’s somewhat liberating to be bound by someone else’s text. To attempt to immerse myself in their style and their thinking and then convey that to the audience. It was very much like performing in a play. 

We’ll win this war, but we’ll win it only by fighting and showing the Germans that we’ve got more guts than they have or ever will have. We’re not just going to shoot them, we’re going to rip out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks.

My first project was reading a poem. It went well, but it was much like my normal speeches. I used good voice inflection. I paused. I connected with the audience.. Yesterday’s speech was different. This was an Oratorical speech. I considered several famous speeches from history. Mark Anthony’s speech from Shakespear’s play Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2 which starts “Friends, Romans and countrymen lend me your ears,” is one of my favorites. I thought about John F Keenedy when he instructed us to “Think now what your country can do for you, but think what you can do for your country.” I even considered Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” Speech.

There will be some complaints that we’re pushing our people too hard. I don’t care about such complaints. I believe that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder we push, the more Germans we kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing harder means fewer caualties. I want you all to remember that. 

Instead, I chose a speech by General George Patton, commander of the US Third Army as it was preparing to invade Europe as part of operation D-Day. Patton had the task of preparing his army for one of the toughest campaigns of the war. His troops were green. Many of them had never seen combat. He knew that he was sending some of his men to die. But, he believed that the cause was worth it. His speech, excerpts of which I’ve included in the quotes here, was a masterful blend of bravado and an almost fatherly confidence.

Some of you men are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure that that you’ll all do your duty.

The challenge for me, was that this is not my type of speech. I don’t do the cheerleader, rah-rah speeches. I don’t do the “appeal to God and country” type of speeches. Patton did all of that. When it was over, I’d blown out my voice by talking in that gravely drill-instructor voice for 10 minutes. And I came to understand the man a little. He was sending boys to die, but they were his boys. He was trying to do all he could to keep them alive. But, not just alive. Because surviving is not the goal of war. Winning is the goal.

You can’t win a war lying down. The quickest way to get it over with is to get those who started it. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. So keep moving.

His words sound jarring to us today. But, in 1944 to a group of young boys scared of having to kill or be killed, it was exactly what they needed to hear.

There’s one thing you men will be able to say when this war is over and you get back home. Thirty years from now when you’re sitting by your fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks, “What did you do in the great World War Two?” You won’t have to cough and say, “Well, your granddaddy shoveled manure in Louisiana.” No sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say “Son, your granddaddy rode with the great third Army and a man named George Patton!”  

“That is all.”

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2016 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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