Last year I was given the opportunity to address an audience of fourth through twelfth graders at an awards ceremony. The speech I gave was not how I imagined it. While I knew what I wanted to say, armed with only an outline, I rambled and eventually my audience lost sight of my point. I posted the speech I imagined giving and promised myself that I would do better the next time around.
The next time came around – Same awards ceremony – Even some of the same teachers! I remembered my promise. This time I was determined to keep my audience with me. This time I wrote my speech down. I was determined not to ramble. This time I read instead of spoke and lost my audience quicker than the first time – the former being more contrived and mechanical than the latter, which often comes off more sincere.
This time was worse than the last time. And what bothers me most is I don’t know when I became such a poor public speaker?
I have conducted teacher training workshops after a long school day, read my poetry to folks more eager for their turn at the mike than to hear me, and taught middle school (typically the toughest age). I have done all of this without a stutter so why is giving a congratulatory speech to a receptive audience so unnerving for me? Why does my tongue trip over my teeth? And my mouth mar the beautiful thoughts I have thunk?
I wanted to talk to the participants – who were there to celebrate their achievements during the semester – about the season finale of Glee. I thought it was a good lesson on the notion of winning. I thought the popularity of the show would provide my audience with a common focal point. I was wrong. Glee is not texting (which the audience last year was resoundingly positive to). Glee drew shy acknowledgements from its handful of fans in the audience.
But I went on.
I went on to tell the story of the Glee season finale. I gave away the ending. The protagonists in New Directions do not win at Regionals. The reigning champions do – Vocal Adrenalin. If Glee were real I would count myself among the members of New Directions – not because they are the protagonists – but because I have always felt a kinship with the underdogs and the misfits – those who are not supposed to win – those who through adversity learn to value the “little things in life.”
New Directions did not win Regionals but they did take comfort in the life lesson losing had provided. They acknowledged who they’ve been and who they are becoming. Lulu’s “To Sir With Love” was an excellent finale choice with its themes of growth and acknowledgement. The Sidney Poitier movie of the same name that introduced the song is also an excellent story with the same themes.
I thought this was an appropriate message to provide the audience of winners I was speaking to. Unfortunately, the message was lost in my incoherence.
I want to believe that maybe like the members of New Directions this recent loss will provide me with a life lesson as well. But so far all it has generated is the wish I could do the day all over again. And this time I would not read. I would return to my outline (with maybe a few more notations).