Manner of Speaking: Marathon of the Mouth
How I survived three speeches in 12 hours.
By Caren Neile, Ph.D., ATMS
One thing I know for sure: I will never run for public office. Like many a candidate, I recently had three speaking engagements in a single day – and let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. But I survived, and I learned from the experience. Here is how my day played out:
• 6 a.m. The alarm rings. I wince, slap down the snooze bar, dream about speaking onstage to a headless audience, and...
• 6:10 a.m. The alarm rings again. This time I jump up. After a quick glance in the mirror, I decide I did the right thing washing my hair the night before. It will save me some time this morning.
• 6:30 a.m. I drink two eight-ounce glasses of water instead of my usual cup of coffee. I have a feeling that I’d be too jazzed from the caffeine. I check the mirror. Oh, no. Fully dressed, I realize my hair is a wreck, and it’s too late to do anything about it.
• 6:50 a.m. The sun has not yet surfaced in the horizon. Did I mention that I’m not a morning person? Miserably I climb into the car and drive to a nearby country club for a Rotary meeting, at which I am the guest speaker requesting funds for my university program. Two weeks earlier I was told that this was the only day and time available to me.
• 7:10 a.m. When I reach the buffet, all I put on my plate is melon. It will take the edge off my hunger but won’t make me feel a sugar rush – or too sluggish.
• 7:45 a.m. I’m on. I have done this talk before, so I can work, to some extent, on automatic pilot. I want to be present for my audience and give my presentation at an appropriately energetic level, but it’s such a relief to have familiar words at my command when I am too tired to think of new ones.
• 8:10 a.m. The Q&A is over, and I am photographed receiving a check. Someone comes up to say that her organization has $13,000 to give away in grants, and she would like to set up a meeting with me. I am so glad I spoke at this meeting!
• 9:45 a.m. Back home, I make a couple of work calls and return to bed, too tired to eat. I can’t peel off my sweater fast enough. Was it hot in there, or was it me?
• 10:30 a.m. The alarm rings. I take another shower and look at my hair. It is considerably flattened by now. In vain, I attempt to puff it up. I dress in layers this time and run out to the car for my next event.
• 11:30 a.m. As I pull into the Marriott parking lot, I sigh. Why am I here? But this is the engagement I’d accepted first. It’s a Chamber of Commerce luncheon for CEOs and business owners. My contact is a fellow Toastmaster who had read an article of mine in this magazine and wanted me to speak about it. I would prefer to go back to sleep, but I can’t let her down.
• 12 p.m. I meet my gracious hostess and circulate among the members. I have this nagging sense that there is some cosmic reason for why I am here.
• 12:10 p.m. Making the rounds, I gravitate to a woman in the crowd. I look at her name tag. I look at her face. I look at her name tag again. I look at her face again. I squeal. We knew each other 1,200 miles away, and I haven’t seen her in more then 30 years. We do a lot more squealing.
• 12:30 p.m. The food arrives. I ordered fruit again, to keep eating lightly. There is so much I can barely make a dent, so I have it wrapped up to take home. I drink plenty of water. My old friend and I sit at the same table, still squealing.
• 12:45 p.m. I am introduced. After 10 minutes, I feel that the speech isn’t working. Also, my stomach is growling. I still have 10 minutes to go, and I am running out of ideas. Then my Toastmasters training kicks in. I ask for questions or comments. My listeners adjust the topic a bit, and the rest of the talk is a breeze.
• 3:15 p.m. Back in bed again, after doing a bit more work. I take what I call half-facetiously a “working nap.” That is, as I drift off, I focus on what I’m going to say next.
• 6 p.m. I am at my university, waiting to give a speech to potential donors on a campus tour. The organizer had called me two days earlier, begging me to fill in for someone because I had done this before. My hair refuses to wake up.
• 6:30 p.m. The Dean who introduces me is the most eloquent speaker I know. In the best of times, I am tongue-tied around her. Today I hear myself misstating information or wording it poorly. I am simply not at my best.
• 7 p.m. As I say good-bye to my Dean, I mention that this is the third time I’ve spoken in 12 hours. She says, “Then stop talking!” I wonder how to take that. On the way home, I hope that maybe something good will come of this speech, too. So far, the only good thing that has come from it is that I haven’t been asked to speak on that tour again.
Could you spot the pros and cons of my approach? Here is what I learned from the experience:
- Wash your hair in the morning. It may take an extra 15 minutes, but it will help you feel put together all day. Layer clothing, and keep it comfortable. Room temperatures vary. Have a change of clothing ready in case you need it.
- Naps are helpful if possible, but if you can handle caffeine, just a couple of cups as a pick-me-up throughout the speaking day will keep you sharp.
- Drinking plenty of water is a good way to clear the head and body.
- Also, eat lightly, but eat. We need the fuel to make it through any marathon.
- And even if tired, try to maintain a positive outlook. Every speaking experience is an opportunity for personal growth, networking and giving back. It’s not the audience’s fault that you’re overbooked!
- Go easy on yourself. Any ballplayer will tell you that it’s tough to bat three for three. If most of the day’s speeches are winners, that’s reason enough to celebrate.
- Did I mention washing your hair in the morning?
- Finally, I learned that speaking three times in one day really is a marathon, and like other marathons, it requires not only training in public speaking but also physical stamina.
On the other hand, I was so focused on staying strong that I completely forgot to be nervous – so there’s a good side to everything.
Caren S. Neile, Ph.D, ATMS, is a member of West Boca club 1978 in Boca Raton, Florida. She directs the South Florida Storytelling Project at Florida Atlantic University and performs and presents regularly throughout the U.S. and abroad – usually once a day.