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Column for 8.31.11
The best speech-making advice Iíve ever been given came from Dick Coleman, once the varsity cross country coach at Mohawk Valley Community College. I follow his advice to this very day.
Many years ago I was the commencement speaker at MVCC. As we lined up to march into the Utica Memorial Auditorium, Coach Coleman, a friend and fellow runner, said to me, ďTreat this speech as a sprint, not a marathon,Ē or something close to that.
Because of Coach Colemanís last second advice, I cut the speech in half. I got a warm round of applause at the speechís end. I suspect the applause was more for the length of the speech than its content.
The reason speech-making is on my mind today is that Iíve agreed to give a speech later this week. I shouldnít admit this, but I regret agreeing to the speech. The last time I gave a speech I promised myself it would be the last time. This time I really mean it.
This upcoming speech will only take a few minutes to give, but it will take up most of my day. When I get up in the morning, it will be on my mind. It will continue to be on my mind throughout the day as I toss the speech around in my head. Even when the speech is over, Iíll be thinking about it on the way home, trying to decide if it was good or not. Sometimes the ride home isnít an enjoyable trip.
Iíve given more than a few speeches over the years. These are things Iíve found to be true:
Water is usually provided for the speaker. Iíve never had to take a sip of water during a speech. My thinking is that if my throat or mouth is that dry, Iíve been talking too long and ought to sit down.
If you arenít experienced, giving a speech can be one of lifeís more terrifying experiences. Some people, I once read, would rather have a root canal than give a speech. They must have a great dentist. Itís either that or Iíve forgotten what itís like to get up for the first time and give a speech.
Who you sit next to at the head table is a matter of luck. Iíve had the good fortune of sitting next to some wonderful people. Iíve also been not so lucky.
Speaking at a breakfast is the best time to speak. Everybody is fresh and alert, including, we hope, the speaker. And the program sticks to a rigid schedule because people have to get to work. After dinner speeches can drag, people have had a couple of adult beverages, and are tired after a long day.
Speaking of adult beverages, my rule is not to have one before a speech. I confess to once or twice having broken that rule.
Sometimes the introduction you are given is good, sometimes not. Once I was introduced by a priest. His introduction was better than my speech. The worst introductions are the ones where your resumť is read word for word.
Itís an honor to be selected as the main speaker, but not very pleasant if there are several speakers before you. People can only sit and listen for so long.
Audience members most always come up to the head table after a speech to say how good the speech was. Sometimes their assessment is even correct.
The number of free speeches a speaker gives is much greater than the number of paid speeches a speaker gives.
I donít like doing a question and answer session after a speech. There are two reasons. One, when Iím done talking, I want to leave. The evening has gone on long enough. Two, you never know what questions will be asked. Iíve been embarrassed by questions on two occasions. I remember the questions but Iím not going to repeat them here.
As I say, I regret accepting this upcoming invitation to speak, but who knows, the person who invited me might read this and change his mind.