Llew had to give a presentation today – about the much-maligned and little understood area of finance known as Margin Lending – in front of about 60 banking types from around the business. I called before to see how he went, and his response was “It was fine. It wasn’t great, but it was fine.” What happened? Well, he probably wasn’t as well prepared as he would have liked. This lack of preparation quickly produced a domino effect. In short order: he rambled and got off topic, he couldn’t work in his (really great, really funny) highly relevant anecdote because he wasn’t feeling confident enough to pull it off and segue back to business (such a shame! He left work late last night, and on the way home his French cabdriver ranted about the GFC in terms that had me crying with laughter, especially as delivered by Monsieur Llew himself), he ran out of time, and, the final kicker, people weren’t able to ask questions because it went over time and the room was needed for another meeting. Bugger.
“I’m out of practice,” Llew said, and it’s true. Neither of us has given a speech since our wedding day over four years ago. And guess what we did then? Yep, we decided to wing it. I remember ducking around a corner of the house with Llew so we could frantically throw something together, only to find both the best man and the bridesmaid already hiding out for precisely the same reason. The four of us sat on that bench, chin in hand, glumly contemplating the error of our ways. Llew’s father, meanwhile, a consummate speechmaker, was so thoroughly prepared he didn’t even drop a vowel, and of course his speech was superb. Our MC, one of Llew’s best mates and an incredibly disciplined Army type, also reaped the benefits of outstanding preparation, delivering a self-penned poem that brought down the house. Gulp. My memory of my own speech is a garbled blur of crying and laughing. I don’t know how it was for everyone else. Hopefully not a total train wreck, but boy I rued my cavalier attitude later. Llew, a very charismatic and amusing person who has great presence, was relieved of all speech-making duties when his opening was interrupted by a cry from the crowd. Turning around, we looked out to sea (we got married and had our reception in a sickeningly great beach house on the South Coast) to find a pod of dolphins swimming right out front. Never was a collective gasp so audible – all hell broke loose as everyone raced to the deck, Llew’s speech forgotten. He was delighted. He likes to complain that he was upstaged just as he was warming up, but really, he was delighted. He also said everything he needed to say, which was “I just love you.” Oh, see, it makes something catch in my throat even now. And if the bride’s happy, the groom’s off the hook.
Anyway, Llew’s out of practice and so am I. Llew enjoys presenting, and is a natural, but the fact is, speaking well in front of a group of people is no time to wing a thing. It’s a tough gig. I know how many standup comics speak entirely off the cuff: none. No chance. That’s just a shortcut to certain death. And trying to successfully ad lib an entire speech or presentation is the same. Very, very, very few people can do this and emerge unscathed. Neither of us can.
I used to do a lot of speechmaking as a (yeah, yeah, go ahead and say it, get it off your chest: nerdy) teen. I was never on the full circuit (who had the time?! What with all my other exciting extracurricular pursuits like debating, mock trials and the school magazine…), but I was called upon to address the whole school on a number of occasions, and I participated in a few competitions through Lyons Club Australia. I was better at debating, where speaking quickly can be a secret weapon. As a speechmaker, I’m a natural bolter. And when it came time to first read any of my MS aloud to other people, I nearly died. Very. Nearly. Died. Right. There. At. The. Table. That was at that HIDEOUS Sydney Writers’ Festival event last year. Shudder. And things hadn’t improved when I got to Varuna last September. When I first read to the Darklings, that horrifying Night of the Lead Balloon, I was basically going for a personal best time. Speedy Gonzales has nothing on me, and I mean nothing.
And I know preparation is key. I used to write out my speeches word for word. Word for word. And I didn’t exactly memorise them, but we were extremely well-acquainted by the time I knocked my knees together on stage. I wrote out little cards, I numbered them, I highlighted, I ordered my points, I left as little to chance as possible when one has a mighty motor mouth. I prepared, and I prepared well. So it behooves (first time I’ve ever used that in a sentence!) me, I think, to share what I do know, and good habits past, with Llew, so that as he presents more and is called upon as a speechmaker more often, he can weave in stories about French cabdrivers while he’s busy knocking ’em dead.