I am a public speaker. I’m actually a “retired” competitive public speaker. I was a competitive public speaker from seventh grade to my sophomore year of high school.
The first speech I gave to an audience was about why you should buy big, black, older dogs from shelters instead of small, little puppies from pet stores. I gave this speech to my 4-H dog obedience club. Most of you didn’t know me when I was twelve. I don’t think anyone who reads this knew me when I was twelve. Wiley and I hadn’t even sat next to each other on the bus that took us home from after school care yet, which is where we both decided that we tolerated each other, even though I thought she was weird because she read big books. I was a weird kid at twelve years old. I rotated wearing the same three t-shirts to school every week. I didn’t brush my hair. I wore mom jeans. I had big glasses. I looked like a nerd, but I wasn’t, my grades sucked. My social life consisted of a girl who thought it was funny to make me hold lit matches in my hand. If you think I’m awkward now, you should have seen me back then. If I had access to a photo I would put one up.
Needless to say, I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence (I didn’t have any) and my biggest fear was public speaking. But it’s a requirement for all children who want to keep participating in 4-H; once you turn twelve you must give a speech that relates to the club you’re in to the other club members and a 4-H county judge. My club leader told me to tell the story of how I adopted my dog Rosie and why it was a good decision. So I did.
Six members competed from our club. The top two would go on to Regionals where they would have to compete against members of the other clubs in our county. The top five from that would compete in States and then from there to Nationals. I was praying that I would land in the bottom four. I gave my speech. I had survived. I wasn’t sure if I’d survive again.
I made the top two. I don’t know if the judge was deaf and couldn’t hear my speech or if she just enjoyed watching me suffer but I was now going to Regionals.
I prepared my speech in the three weeks before Regionals. After a week of thinking about a topic besides dogs (you weren’t allowed to speak about a topic related to your club for regionals) I decided to give a speech about African drumming.
Why African drumming? I’ll tell you why African drumming.
I was in an after school program where my schedule of activities had been messed up and I had to take Hands on Drums with Mr. Ro the band teacher. He didn’t care if I sucked and actually encouraged me to suck. So I sucked and I loved it. I loved it so much that my parents actually bought me a Remo Djembe drum for my twelfth birthday. So I knew a little bit about African drumming, really the bare minimum.
So it was time to give my speech to a room full of strangers. The speech had to be five to ten minutes long, no profanity, and had to be a suitable subject topic for a twelve year old to talk about. You didn’t have to have your speech memorized but you couldn’t read it off of a sheet of paper either.
When my turn came around I gave my speech, which I had never timed on my own but it felt like I was probably going to be well over the time limit so I sped up and ended up giving a two-minute speech. I was disqualified.
This should have been the end of my competitive public speaking career but it wasn’t. I was approached by Laura, the 4-H county officer, she told me that she thought that I had a lot of potential and wanted to me try out this upcoming summer to be a Middlesex County 4-H ambassador.
A 4-H ambassador is a middle school or high school student who speaks on behalf of all 4-H youth to get more community support for local 4-H programs, same rules applied for Reigonals except you could talk about a topic related to your club and you could repeat speeches. So that summer at the Middlesex County Fair I gave a speech about why you should buy big, black, older dogs from shelters instead of small, little puppies from pet stores. I did well enough to be made an ambassador but I didn’t get the coveted lead ambassador position. The only difference between an ambassador and a lead ambassador is that a lead ambassador will always be an ambassador where regular ambassadors have to compete every year in order to keep their title.
So now I had to give speeches all the time. I gave lectures about how to be a good public speaker to grade schools. I spoke to parents about how influential 4-H was on my life growing up. I had to show the effect 4-H has on the community to potential grant suppliers. I was giving at least one speech a month and I got pretty good at it.
But I was never good enough.
Every summer I competed for the lead ambassador and every summer I lost. I finally gave up my sophomore year because I was the only one in high school who was competing and I was a teenager and embarrassed by this because that’s all teenagers do, they get embarrassed by stuff that shouldn’t embarrass them.
This also came in handy when junior speeches came around in high school. Here I was, probably the best orator at Metuchen High School and no one knew because I had done it all through 4-H. So I gave my junior speech on why Jim Carroll should not be seen as a controversial figure because of his alleged media influence on the Columbine School Shooters and should be considered a controversial person because he gave up a life of Christianity and a lucrative basketball career to be a writer and a drug addict and as a result had a greater influence on the general public.
I got the only perfect score. No big deal.
My public speaking skills just didn’t aide in excelling in certain academic areas. I also became a rather popular spoken word poet. I emceed open mics, was featured at shows, publish two chapbooks and came out with a CD. I spoke to high school students, presented at colleges. I would get recognized in public, people would ask me to sign autographs. I even had a stalker my senior year who believed that all of my poetry that I had written was about her even though we had never met. It was a surreal year for me.
When I got to college and joined PRIDE, the staff advisor actually invited me to give lecture with him about what it was like to be gay at ESU and why LGBT people don’t have all of the rights I deserved. It was supposed to be a one-time thing but now I’m the co-coordinator of the program and often give the lecture by myself.
Most people who have met me but have never heard me speak to an audience are often taken back by my oratory abilities, especially if the person has only made small talk with me. I suck at small talk. I don’t know how to have a conversation with someone I’ve just met. I look like a deer in headlights and can’t pay attention to what the person is saying. If I catch a word that I know I’ll blurt out some obscene fact about something associated with that word. This usually makes the person stare at me for a second before continuing what they were saying and ignoring my outburst or walking away from me confused and irritated.
An example of a typical conversation between Gabe and anyone else. Sorry about the poor quality, I was surprised I could find the clip at all.
Just because I can’t talk to someone face-to-face doesn’t mean I’m not going to knock him or her off his or her feet with a speech. Even after the speech is over and a Q&A session begins I’m still in the zone. Why? Because public speaking is not the same a regular ole speaking.
So afterwards when people ask me, “How did you get so good at public speaking?” I tell them this.
1. Research your topic. Know it in and out. Know everything about it.
2. If it’s a controversial issue, know the other side and be able to disprove as much of it as you can.
3. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice alone. Practice in front of your friends. Say random lines from your speech as the lunch lady swipes your card to let you into the cafeteria.
4. If some one asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, don’t lie. Ask them to see you after the presentation. Once the presentation is over get their information, go home, look it up and let them know.
5. Don’t rush. No matter how slow you feel like you’re talking you’re probably not talking slow enough.
6. Know your time limits.
7. Know your audience. Don’t give a speech about the complexity that social media websites add to the modern age of communication to six year olds, not even if they’re really smart six year olds.
8. Don’t wait unless the last minute
I can go on and on about power points presentations, flip charts, attire, etc. But you’re probably really bored right now…
A) I’m going away on Friday for a family vacation to Washington DC where I can assure you I will have limited (if any) access to a computer. I’ll try my best to get posts up. I should have regular access to a computer by Monday.
B) Hey look, I made an about me page: http://thirtyoneorten.wordpress.com/about/
C) While talking to Blake online yesterday about Inception I asked him what is totem was and he said this:
I asked him to elaborate and he did:
“…You know…a ring… That you put on your finger? Like, if you liked it than you should have put a ring on it?”