Use it or lose it…

April 1, 2009 at 3:47 am (Uncategorized)

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.



  1. couchtrip said,

    As I was saying before my comment disappeared: Great post. I loved the part about the wedding and the pod of dolphins and the luurve bit too. The knocking of knees was a good touch. And sorry that Llew didn’t knock em dead this time. Your taxi drivers sound waay more interesting than ours. Ours are angry and rude and pretty poor drivers (well the minibus taxi drivers anyway).

  2. davidrochester said,

    The only thing funnier than an indignant Frenchman is someone imitating an indignant Frenchman, as I’ve had cause to learn since my bff moved to France, and has started telling me about his neighbors. ZOMG. Comedy gold.

    I used to win awards, in my teens, for competitive stand-up comedy. How’s that for bizarre?

    Now, though, I can’t get in front of an audience without complete loss of functionality, and the better-prepared I am, the worse it is.

  3. Grad said,

    Oh, this brings back a painful memory. I was asked to speak at a seminar – my topic legal ethics. Who needs to prepare? How simple is this? I got up to the lecturn, looked out at the crowd, every thought left my brain, my eyes blurred, my throat closed up, the room spung around, kerplunk! Thankfully, I wasn’t wearing a skirt and the color of my Victoria Secrets remained a mystery, and it was a very small crowd. Believing one must always get back on the bicycle, I gave it another try several years later (who in their right mind would have asked me again?) Topic: Case Management and Organization (dry as dust). Oh, right! Big crowd. All hungry for the worst. But I fooled them. That time, I was prepared…I was funny…I was brilliant. It was a good time to call it my swan song. People can be so perverted! What is it about a train wreck?

  4. doctordi said,

    Actually, Pete, Llew gets all the cool cabbies. He comes away with, as David says, comic gold, time after time. I get the rude, psychotic and incompetent ones instead. Sydney is teeming with cabdrivers (unless you’re actually LOOKING for one) who don’t seem to know where on earth they are. Sydney? Really? You don’t say. But Llew, he’s basically in a Jim Jarmusch film every time he hails a cab.

    David, I don’t find it bizarre in the slightest. Can imagine it perfectly well, and am not in the least bit surprised. Standup is one of your alternate destinies, I think.

    Grad, I am so glad your Victoria Secrets weren’t compromised!!!! You actually fainted?! That’s beautiful. I remember at one comp my hands were sweating so much the ink on my speech cards ran… that was nice.
    Good for you – the Speechmaker Cometh!

  5. Rubes said,

    Just turnng up with a car is good enough, apparently.

    in other news, I think I’ve had that cabbie. I caught a cab after an interest rate rise a couple of years back and made the mistake of asking him people were catching less cabs following the announcement. He said that people were catching less cabs because ‘all zees people, zey overreact… zey shit zemselvez and poop in zeir nappeez’.

    Must be ze same dude, for sure.

  6. doctordi said,

    Oh my god, Rubes, that’s him!!!!!!!!!!!!! That HAS to be him. What a scream – I love this guy. This time, “All zees wang-kurs, zey all zink zat zay are formula one drivers…” –

  7. litlove said,

    I know all about this – after all, I used to lecture for a living. I always wrote the lecture out in full, even if I didn’t always refer to it as closely as that, because I never trusted my mouth on autopilot. I haven’t lectured for about three years now, and I am relieved as public speaking is scary and disconcerting, no matter what. I wish so much I could say differently, but alas, preparation is indeed the key.

  8. doctordi said,

    Did it get any easier lecturing over time?

  9. litlove said,

    To be honest, it was always scary, but I became much more experienced and therefore confident about what I could do and how to get out of any holes I dug for myself. Also, I learned that the atmosphere in a room is sometimes insurmountable and always unpredictable. In other words, if things don’t go well, it’s not always your fault. Hot, stuffy rooms, a poor previous speaker, or a simple pervasive spirit of discontent can take the edge off what you do despite all good intentions. And that’s kind of reassuring to realise.

  10. doctordi said,

    I found tutorials bad enough in some instances – it turned me off the whole idea of lecturing. I enjoyed the work as a course tutor, but it was pretty alarming realising they were prepared to just throw me in there without the benefit of any training or preparation whatsoever. You’re a postgrad? Great! Room 121A – they’re waiting for you.

    But yes, it’s so reassuring when you figure out that sometimes the vibe is completely beyond your control. I’m sure you gave great lectures, Litlove. Your blogs are so erudite I’m sure your lectures were the same. I did wake up once in an undergraduate ancient history lecture drooling on myself… that department prided itself on excruciating lectures, which I could never understand. Such a fascinating subject made so deathly dull…

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