“You used to be great at giving those speeches”
– Wife, the other day
Now, first off, it should be noted that I am not much of a speaker.
My first public speaking experience took place in a church. I was nine years old and I had been chosen to read the gospel at school. Never in the history of mankind have Joseph and Mary got so fast from Nazareth to Bethlehem as they did in my recital.
I’ve always been one to blush really easily, so when I had to do my school presentations – always on Mark Twain or Agatha Christie – all it took for me to get red as a beet in my face was for me to see somebody looking at me. So I kept my eyes on the ground and read through my thing.
But of course, with time, I got better, and sometimes even enjoyed giving speeches, and presentations, but most of the times I was the one in the back of the room, making those funny remarks that got the entire company to laugh.
That’s the speaker Wife remembers. She was sitting next to me, snickering, which made me just want to shout out some more funny remarks.
I’ve been the toastmaster at a company Xmas party, I used to say a few words at our company gatherings and hockey team events, and I’ve even held speeches at weddings. Well, one wedding. But it was a good one. (I mean the speech, but the wedding was even better.)
Sometimes it’s easy, other times not. Sometimes it’s a pain, other times even worse than that. Sometimes I blush, but not as often as I used to.
Public speaking’s not easy. It makes you blush. You get sweaty. I know. But sometimes it’s even more difficult to be in the audience.
The company that I worked at got a new CEO once. He came from a big, Swedish industrial company, and his mission was to turn a company of 40-something media types into a real business. For some reason, he just wasn’t liked, but in fairness, I don’t think we media types would have liked anybody at that point.
Anyway, the whole staff had gathered to the big conference room, with about half of us sitting around a big oval table, and the rest sitting on window sills, on couches, and on their office chairs that they had wheeled in for the meeting.
The CEO walked in, and took his place in front of everybody, and got to work. Now, he had to do it in English, which probably wasn’t that Swedish man’s strong suit. And, speaking of suits, he should have worn one.
Instead, he was wearing a light blue shirt.
I don’t really remember what he said. Something about a mission, I’m sure, and profits and maybe even new media. All I remember is sitting in the back of the room, watching two stains of sweat under his arms getting bigger. And bigger. And bigger.
By the end of his talk, they – now dark blue stains – touched in the middle, and we knew he was done.
Many, many moons ago, when I graduated from high school, my Dad held a speech at the party. He had waited until it was almost over, until about a half hour before I was taking off, meeting my classmates downtown.
He disappeared for a few minutes, then came waltzing into the living room, waving a thick book in his hand, and asked for everybody’s attention. He said “everybody” but I know he was fine with not everybody dropping their conversations and listening to him, so he just launched into his speech, without waiting for everybody.
The book he was holding in his hand was an old economics book that Mom had had at the business school – and one that I would be reading a new edition of just a few months later – less than twenty years earlier (even though I’m sure they felt pretty short to Dad at that moment). And he said something about Mom always telling him something about the importance of the contents page, and how I should also make sure I kept my eye on the big picture.
I was a teenager, so I was uncomfortable just listening to my old man giving a speech because I fully expected him to embarrass me.
As my thank you speech, I just nodded to him. And raised my glass.
I still don’t know exactly what he meant, but it was an unforgettable speech because it’s the only one I’ve ever heard my father give – outside a hockey locker room.
I still start every new book by reading its contents page.