Did you ever have to make a speech?
It’s something that we did every year at my Secondary School. In the First Year it only had to be one minute long – that’s not really a lot of work when you think about it. I could talk for more than a minute on how irritating it is that chin hair dares to grow back when you’ve taken the trouble to pluck it, let alone something that’s actually interesting, like dragons or the existence of the Loch Ness Monster.
And it’s not as if you had to abide by the BBC Radio Four show Just A Minute’s rules, speaking for sixty seconds on a given subject ‘without repetition, deviation or hesitation.’
We could be as repetitive, hesitant and deviant as we wanted. Well, you know what I mean.
Granted, the task became more difficult. In the Second Year, the speech had to be two minutes, in the Third three and so on until you had to write a full five minutes in the last year of school.
I dreaded the thing, every single year, even though I only had to speak in front of my own class, filled with best mates, worst enemies and a fair smattering of kids whose existence elicited nothing more from me than a ‘meh’. Still, it was a chore. It was a chore to write, a chore to learn, a chore to deliver and it never got any easier.
My son has had to do a similar thing throughout primary school, though it’s only been a minute speech each time. And he’s had the same approach to it as I had – do the least amount of preparation as possible, turn bright red the moment it’s your turn, gabble the words out in a monotone, scurry back to your chair the millisecond you’re done, sit back and watch with smug satisfaction as the next victim steps up for the ritual humiliation.
And yet …
I actually think the school did us a disservice by not making us do more public speaking. Shall I tell you why?
When you see MPs and PMs talking on the news and in the House, it’s clear even when they’re pimply bottomed newbies to the benches that they’re used to talking in public. Often this is because they were privately educated and private schools encourage rhetoric and debate. All that practice in debating societies gives the young oiks a tremendous sense of confidence when it comes to voicing their own opinions.
I envy such training.
I like to think I’m not too stupid. I’m no Stephen Hawking – I’m not even the marvellous Stephen Fry – but I have got a brain. However, when it comes to debate and argument … I can and have been beaten into a gibbering mass of twitching, gulping, inarticulate spasms when faced with someone who can speak with confidence.
Now, I know this failing has something to do with mental agility – my brain must be clogged with silly putty for the speed my neurons fire. But I can’t help but think, if only I had been forced to use my rhetorical skills more often when my brain was still a bright and shiny mass of growth, not the calcifying lump of dead coral it is now, then maybe, just maybe, I could win the odd argument.
Today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is brought to you by the word
APOLOGIA, a form of rhetoric used to defend actions or opinions.
And next time you read one of these written by an MP or a PM, explaining why they started an illegal war or cut disability benefit or closed another mental health unit, remember – an APOLOGIA is not the same thing as an APOLOGY. The clever public speaker has to show no remorse at all to present an APOLOGIA, merely an explanation.
See, I knew I should’ve worked harder at those speeches.
And now, an actual APOLOGY. Ahead of me lies six weeks of summer holidays, in which I somehow have to entertain an eleven-year-old boy enough so that neither her nor I are driven to the sharp knife draw in desperation. There are weeks of climbing, cycling, swimming ahead – not an easy ask for a woman more used to exercising her fingers on the keyboard than her biceps and quads.
So I’m sorry, dear fellow bloggers, if I don’t visit, read, Like and comment over the summer as much as I usually would. Normal service will resume in six weeks.
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