Speaking Out


When I got back from Atlanta last night, the annual block party was underway. Anne had made fruit salad and she and many of the neighbors were congregated down the block from our house. I got out of my meeting a little early and made it to the airport in time to catch an earlier flight. There were a fair number of military personnel on the flight, all new inductees, all headed to Fort Leonard Wood, in mid-Missouri. After I was seated, one of the flight attendants came back and asked the group of them, who was the leader. At first, she didn’t say why she wanted to know and was having some trouble getting an answer. Then she explained that a nice gentleman in first class had offered to exchange his seat with the leader of this group. She soon had an army of leaders on her hands.

My fifteen minutes of fame occurred first thing in the morning. I was the first speaker, after our hosts had given their introductory remarks. I got up and walked from the back of the room and began my briefing. I promptly fell flat on my face. Even though I had given variations of this same spiel a dozen times, I found myself tongue-tied. I soon retreated to complete reliance upon the filler vocalization, “ah”. For example, “In his slide, ah, you can see, ah …” I considered changing my nationality to Canadian, so that I could substitute “ay” for ah and thereby pass off my use of fillers as simply another English speaker’s regional accent. I rushed through the pitch at such a rate that I was finished in only ten minutes. Afterwards, many people told me that I had done a good job, including my management and also the customer, but I knew better. By the end of the day, it didn’t really matter though, because my silver-tongued compatriots had wooed the audience so successfully that a rising tide floated all boats, even mine.

Later, after the block party, this thought occurred to me, I need a teleprompter. Yesterday’s it was a standup talk. I faced the audience and could only surreptitiously look at the slides. The dozen times that I had previously given this pitch were less formal events. For these, I just flipped through the slides, while sitting at the PC in the back of the room. While flipping the slides, I could also read them and more easily speak to them. In these settings, I felt more comfortable and spoke more naturally. President Obama is often criticized as the teleprompter president. After yesterday’s epiphany, I see no reason why anyone should denigrate him for the use of this technology. It is no more a crutch than the reading glasses that Winston Churchill used, when he broadcasted his famous World War II speeches and Churchill is rightly regarded as one of the greatest English speakers.

In the movie, “The King’s Speech”, the actor, Geoffrey Rush’s character employ’s a myriad of artifices and techniques to teach Colin Firth, ah, King George VI, how to talk pretty now. We have created a multitude of technological aids to communication. They should not just be reserved for the most eloquent among us. If I need a crutch then I should be able to use it. After all, we are no longer 19th century barrister orators, speaking extemporaneously.  If what I have to say is deemed important enough to be heard, then I should be afforded the tools to do the job. When this is done, then the last thing we would have to do is kill all the lawyers.

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