Tag Archives: speech

Song of Hope

Late afternoon sun lights up the end of the long hallway. It’s quiet and still. I’m here alone, sitting on a convenient chair just outside the closed door. I’m waiting for it to open.

I know the drill. Somebody’s in there right now, another homeschool highschooler, presenting their interp to the row of judges. I would love to watch, but I never watch right before I give my own speech. I need time to focus. Rehearse the lines silently in my head. After that, just wait.

The nerves start to play with you when you’re waiting for the door to open, but that’s nothing new. You find ways of calming yourself, and though you always stay a little afraid, the thrill of performing soon overcomes the butterflies.

I have space in this hallway, in this Korean church and school in New Jersey, to settle down and mentally prepare for my speech. The diffuse glow on the linoleum floors is soft and pleasant. Once again, I feel the nerves tie my stomach in knots.

Go away, I tell them. I shift in the kid’s chair. Still nervous. Quietly, I begin to sing to myself, sing the nerves away.

It’s Song of Hope, and it’s one of my tournament theme songs. At least, it became my theme song that day. It’s a song that makes you feel small, in a good way. It made speech room stage fright up and disappear when I needed it to.

Typically fear follows me into the competition room and remains for the first few seconds of performance until I find my groove and stay there. Not this time. This time when the door opens I’m ready, standing with an easy smile.

I enter and walk to the center of the room. The judges are finishing writing down their thoughts from the previous performance. I hold up my name tag where they can easily see.

“My name is Kira Gregory. Are the judges ready?” They nod. “The timer?” Yup. “Let’s begin.”

Learning Like Ancient Greeks

I hear a lot of stories in history class, and one of them was this: There was once a successful student who graduated from our college and started his own small business. Feeling a duty to support his college community, this businessman began hiring graduates from our school. After a while though, something made him change his mind about our people. Today, this man refuses to hire technical graduates from his own school, for one and only one reason:

They can’t communicate. They can’t write, and they can’t convey the knowledge they have, which renders that knowledge useless.

Learn to write!” proclaimed my history professor, and then went on to tell us why the Ancient Greeks were the founders of abstract, scientific thought.

I had three years of competitive communication experience in high school. Debate was one of the most intensely educational experiences of my life. As it turns out, debate is also the agreed-upon reason why the Ancient Greeks were ahead of the curve when it came to scientific thought.

Greeks loved to debate politics. In Greece, you couldn’t just state your case—no one would listen. You had to defend it. You had to understand your arguments well enough to be capable of withstanding the fire of an opponent’s rebuttals. And you learned rhetoric, articulation, and eloquence along the way. Eventually, the Greeks moved on to debate other topics—like scientific theory. The rest is history.

I say we should learn like the Ancient Greeks. Debates should happen in our classrooms regularly. Competition brings out the best in people, and it becomes painfully obvious extremely fast when a debater doesn’t know their own case. Debate is the fastest way I know of to learn a topic inside and out, and as a side benefit, you learn to persuade an audience despite the fact that another human being is trying their hardest to undermine your case and credibility. That’s educational.

Oh, and for those who haven’t tried it, debate just happens to be one of the funnest things in the world.

Unteachable: Learning to Write

You’re up next! This is an important presentation, one that could get you that promotion you’ve wanted for so long. Last time, your knees were knocking together so loudly that no one could hear you speak, but this time, you’ve been practicing. You’re ready. And it’s showtime.

I’ve long held that you can’t teach writing. You can improve on natural talent, but if the talent’s not there, then too bad. Yet writing a good essay is very similar to presenting a good speech—and for some reason, I thought speaking well could be taught. I taught competitive speech myself for several years in high school. Why, then, don’t I think writing can be learned?

Compared to other disciplines, you’d think writing isn’t really that different. For every subject, the learning formula is more or less the same: practice, practice, practice. Repeat the lesson until it’s memorized. Practice until it’s second nature. Get corrected when your memorization or style has gone awry. You can use this same formula with writing, and with speaking. Memorize a few tactics, practice using those tactics. Appear friendly (or whatever your style is), communicate clearly. Get beta-readers to give you feedback, and be in tune with your audience. Yet, there’s something fundamentally different about communication when it comes to learning.

Learning. There are 8 letters in the word learning—did you see them? No, you saw a word, and more probably, you missed the word altogether and saw a concept. While there is something to understand in most subjects, when it comes to communication, you’re only trying to do two things—make the medium disappear (don’t annoy the audience with nervous gestures or misspellings), and optimally, make the medium enhance the content.

What is there to learn? The best communicators have intangible gut instincts about what makes a good show. The best communication is accomplished through imagination and just being in touch with that unconscious part of yourself that has learned, over a lifetime, what looks and sounds good and what doesn’t.

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Ernest Hemingway

This is why watching good speakers is essential to becoming a good speaker. It’s why the key to writing is reading, reading, reading. Your unconscious needs to learn what to do, so you can forget the medium and focus on the content.

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write. Stephen King, On Writing

In high school, I taught speech with fun exercises, practice, feedback, and videos of excellent speakers. When I got to college, I found my creative writing class taught the same way. We read excerpts of great creative nonfiction, did short impromptu writing exercises, wrote actual pieces, and received peer and professional feedback. Speaking and writing have the same recipe for excellence.

Yet, I was a writer long before taking this class. Most of the students who excelled were. And I wanted to be able to speak well, before I began to practice.

So are these two modes of communication learnable? Are they teachable? Ha! Who knows. But when you begin to practice these things, you learn about the core of who you are and how people perceive you. You learn your style, and what you do best. It’s a different type of learning, but even so, I think everyone should have a taste of it.

BlackMagic

Further reading:

Notable Writing Quotes

What We Learn Through Writing