Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Short and Seemingly Unfinished Guide to Public Speaking

Many people experience a fear of public speaking -and why not? We’ve all seen movies where someone is about to make a momentous announcement only to get blown away by some hidden assassin with a high power scope or have their head psychically exploded by some other scanner in the audience. By the logic of our times (which is terror, not logic) your Key Club meeting or key party could be next.

As a man who is frequently called upon, if not actively prevented from, acts of impromptu public speaking, I have prepared another brief, yet helpful guide.


Bear in mind that there are only three classic openings, which have remained more or less consistent from the times of classical oratory. A fourth, “Who is Our Greatest Nero: the Poet, the Actor, or the Living God Who We Love?” fell out of vogue before the age of the Schoolmen. The classic remaining openings are:

A. Some old guy you used to talk to

B. First time you had to do a medical procedure you didn’t know how to do

C. The time Grandma found you masturbating

Each of these openings is totally invincible, much as certain kung-fu attacks or pick-up lines -but equally requiring the handling of a master, so I will describe each in some detail.

A. Some old guy you used to talk to

This is a classic opening into some warm homily or home-cooked folderol that will please every flabby weak-minded Payless shoe wearing sentimentalist in the audience: in other words, most people. You begin by simply relating how, as a younger person, you used to listen to this old guy:

Old Tim had been a ridin’ the rails for ages, probably with that same tin cup of his. The songs had not changed, but perhaps the meaning of the words or the notes that he bent in his careful hands. Old Tim didn’t think of me as a kid. He told me things other adults were afraid to tell me. Things that helped me be a man. But this isn’t about that. Nor the string of unsolved crimes throughout the region at the time.

Never mind if you never really knew a kindly old Hobo named Tim who rode the rails and explained Penthouse Forum to you with dead rabbit and a can of beans: this stuff writes itself. Why I can see Old Tim’s sweater vest before me now, all torn and dappled with little dry shakes of tobacco like a tree in fall, with the heavy clink of the necklace he always wore that he always promised to show me, which sometimes weakly profiled through said vest looking somewhat like a mutilated police badge.

This opening always works. Why? Because in actuality, our whole society is built around the premise never having to listen to an old person unless they own GE. Yet, it is an experience that people fantasize about all the time. Also, like your itinerant hobo, this opening need not go anywhere. Old Tim’s lessons can be so profound and vague as to tie up with any possible presentation; whether you’re explaining way the immanent necessity of drilling a wildlife refuge, or how your client with his underage sex addiction is the true victim here, Old Tim can just come in at the end with some hard earned lesson of life, returning like Obi Wan at the end of Star Wars or like some faceless killer with protean features that seems to only strike when the Southern Pacific line is running. Your listeners won’t care. Like Old Tim they’ll just be glad for the ride.

B. First time you had to do a medical procedure you didn’t know how to do

Public speaking is a lot like television (see “folderol” above); so we can take a cue from television to see what it is that our audience wants to hear about. What are the popular shows today? I’ll give you a hint: they all have to do with the human body in some way. But not just any human body. No, the human body when there is something really, really wrong with it. The appeal of this is so natural as to almost defy explanation. Briefly: bodies: everyone has one, everyone likes looking at a car wreck.

So, what can enthrall your audience more than your account of how you had to perform a complex medical procedure - a complex medical procedure that you didn’t know how to do. Again, as with Old Tim, do not be distressed if you haven’t actually been in this life threatening situation. Audiences at public speaking events actively engage in what is called suspension of disbelief. Without this valuable convention, the entire past five years of American History becomes totally unintelligible.

This is also where the you didn’t know how to do part comes in. You can be vague. Oh sure, be real specific of how and where this event occurred (food court, mother’s wedding) and how (spear gun fight, spicy food) -though, as always, be sure not to include details that are easily falsifiable or conspicuous (the president, the moon). However, once these details are established (“it was my Aunt Hildy, not my Great Aunt Hildy, mind you, that had gotten the shaft of the spear”) you can afford to be vague. After all, you’re not a doctor (if you are a doctor this opening makes no sense for you).


There is no greater theme than “if.” “If I had two heads” -What if they fought? what if one ate the other? Which one would I be -always end with -”But I don’t have two heads”

“What if I were invisible.”


1. Don’t be afraid to try something new, or pretend you are someone else

2. Timeshare means leveraging your time

3. Overcoming adversity through ignorance

4. What we do not swallow or digest does not make us fatter

5. Best naked James Bond

6. Revenge is a dish best served cold


1. Lookout, I’m gonna blow!

2. You can take your fingers out of your partners mouth now

3. I’ll see you -in the bathroom!

TURN #90: WEEK 76; WORDS: 85,275