Speech delivered at
The Georgia Writers Association Workshop
May 6, 2006
By Jack Thomas
Some years ago, a young lady who worked for me was a few minutes late getting to the office. She explained that the delay was caused by her 4-year-old daughter, Amanda, who was as BRIGHT as she was cute. She looked and acted like a little brunette SHIRLEY TEMPLE.
This particular morning, Amanda was feeling very INDEPENDENT and insisted upon dressing herself. Julia would get Amanda all dressed and then a few minutes later she’d find the child in a PUDDLE OF CLOTHES with two different kinds of socks on her feet.
When Julia finally got Amanda outside and was putting her in the car, this angel-faced child looked up at her and, with TEARS glistening on her cheeks, said, “Well, I don’t care if you don’t wuv me, dis is jes’ th’ way I am!”
I call that “the AMANDA principle.” When you can stand up in front of any audience and repeat Amanda’s BRAVE PROCLAMATION, at least to yourself, then you’ll be well on your way to becoming a TOTALLY CONFIDENT speaker.
What Amanda did was RELIEVE HER STRESS by canceling an impossible goal. She instinctively knew that she could not PLEASE both herself and her mother, so she CANCELLED that impossible goal and set the POSSIBLE goal simply to be the best Amanda she could be and accept the potentially DIRE consequences – at least from her childish perspective.
That’ll make a lot more sense to you as we as delve ever DEEPER into those mysterious INNER WORKINGS of the human mind.
So, what are you going to learn today?
First of all, I’ll share with you some of the BASICS of a good speech.
I’ll also tell you my secret for ELIMINATING stage fright.
Thirdly, I’ll show you how to eliminate most of those very distracting UHS, YOU KNOWS, and other annoying AUDIBLE PAUSES from your speech.
As a bonus, you’ll learn how to figure out if you’re really IN LOVE or just IN A RUT. That done, you’ll also know how to effectively EXPRESS YOUR LOVE to another person – or to a whole bunch of people, such as an AUDIENCE.
Some of you might be thinking right now that I’m promising to tell you how to write the PERFECT SPEECH and deliver it FLAWLESSLY!
It AIN’T gonna happen!
To begin with, there’s NO SUCH THING as a speech that would be judged as PERFECT by everybody who hears it. And, secondly, unless you’re RICHARD BURTON and you’ve spent weeks memorizing a script, you’re not going to deliver it flawlessly.
Nevertheless, you can learn to do better than the average bear.
But, first of all, let’s consider this: Why should YOU, as a CREATIVE WRITER, give a hoot about delivering a better speech?
It’s an unfortunate fact that many brilliant writers cannot make an effective oral presentation. Many agents and editors have the same problem. They seem to THINK with their fingers. When they try to translate their thoughts into SOUNDS, their MOUTH just won’t cooperate.
When you encounter that kind of speaker, you might be tempted to follow the example of JERRY CLOWER when the people in a little mountain church started passing around a basket of serpents.
Jerry asked one of the parishioners where the back door was. When he was told there wasn’t one, he then asked, “Where ‘bouts you reckon y’all might want one?”
I don’t care WHAT you’re tying to sell – whether it’s yourself, your book, or a used car, if you CANNOT speak at least somewhat fluently, you will have ZERO CREDIBILITY. And WITHOUT CREDIBILITY, you cannot persuade anybody of anything. You ARE what you speak.
Since you’re all writers, I won’t waste your time with a lot of technical aspects of a good speech. Keep in mind that no matter how many RULES you come up with, a GIFTED SPEAKER can sometimes violate MOST of them and still get a standing ovation.
For us mere mortals, the first rule for a good speech is the same as the first rule for any good piece of writing: you start with A HOOK. Get the audience INTERESTED, and then DELIVER THE GOODS.
To deliver the goods means your speech must be at least somewhat ENTERTAINING. Even if your perceived purpose is to inform, educate, or persuade, you still have to entertain your audience to keep their ATTENTION.
That doesn’t mean you have to keep them rolling in the aisles with laughter all the time, but it DOES MEAN you have to keep them THINKING and, like Oliver Twist, wanting MORE.
So, how do you give an audience MOOOORE? As WRITERS, that should easy for you. You tell them LITTLE STORIES. You weave anecdotes and personal experiences into your talk at every opportunity.
For example, did you know that Jimmy Carter drinks Heineken Beer? Or at least he used to. I learned that bit of trivia firsthand when I was writing speeches for then-GOVERNOR Jimmy Carter. Once when Jody Powell and I were at the Mansion, Governor Carter came into the room barefooted, wearing blue jeans, and holding a Heineken Beer in his hand. With that big JIM-MYE smile, he said, “Y’all boys want a beer?”
Jimmy Carter was NOT a great speaker, even after he received professional coaching. For the most part, however, he stayed TRUE TO HIS ROOTS. He didn’t try to be something that he wasn’t.
When you get up to give a talk, no matter how formal or informal it might be, that’s NO TIME for you to try to REINVENT yourself.
If you’re a Southerner, talk SOUTHERN. It works for Jeff Foxworthy. If you’re from Australia, talk like an Aussie. That works for Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee character as well as for the GEICO gecko.
(Did you ever wonder, by the way, what would happen if the AFLAC duck happened to run across the GEICO gecko when nobody was looking?)
Another way to entertain your audience is to TELL A JOKE. In nearly all of the speeches I wrote for various politicians, I was required to work in a joke or two in the first few minutes.
In the old days, there was a character in the State Senate who was the BUTT of many jokes. His poor judgment finally earned him a prison term, but before he changed hats, I wrote several speeches for him, myself. In fact, he was one of my most ardent fans and sent me a number of clients.
Anytime this gentleman spoke, he would get SOMEBODY to write a speech for him. A story told around the Capitol as truth was that, once when he was reading an address to the Senate word for word, he came to a sentence enclosed by parentheses and continued to read it — word for word. What was inside the parentheses? It said, “TELL JOKE HERE!” That probably was the best laugh he ever got.
I only wrote a few special speeches for Governor Joe Frank Harris, but he ALSO had a standard joke he used nearly everywhere he spoke. I heard him use it once at a civic club luncheon.
In a very serious tone, he would say, “I asked your president how long I could speak today, and he said, ‘GOVERNOR, you can speak as long as you want to, but WE’RE all leaving here at one o’clock.’” He always got a hearty chuckle from that one – at least for the first couple of years that he used it.
That story brings up another VERY GOOD P0INT. It’s often been said that there’s no such thing as a bad 15-minute speech. It’s equally true that there are very few good one-hour speeches. Since this is a workshop lecture, my talk will be more than 15 minutes, but I’ll try to leave some time for your comments and questions.
If you make your speech short and entertaining, you’ll nearly always get a good reception.
Use short sentences and little words that everybody understands.
Write talking. USE CONTRACTIONS.
Don’t write writing and expect it to sound like talking when you deliver it.
I still have a note that Governor Carter wrote and attached to a brochure that I was writing for him during the early 1970s energy crisis. The note says, “Keep it at the 8th grade level.” I don’t care how sophisticated your audience might be, that’s ALWAYS a good idea.
Unless you’ve already given a speech dozens of times, you should ALWAYS write your speech out and practice it until you’re comfortable with it. PRINT IT OUT in large type –large enough to see from a distance. And use your written speech when you make the final presentation. There’s NO OTHER WAY to stay on track and make the BEST use of your audience’s time.
You don’t want to simply READ the speech, of course. But you must be able to glance at a sentence, inhale its essence, and then regurgitate it in a natural, pleasing, conversational voice. Emphasizing some of the key words, as I’ve done in this speech with caps, is a good way to stimulate your memory with just a glance. A yellow highlighter always works great.
Whether you’re writing a speech for yourself or another person, it’s especially important to use words that your speaker UNDERSTANDS and is able to pronounce. Not every great achiever is a silver-tongued devil. In fact, very few are – silver-tongued, that is.
Mispronounced words and poor grammar can KILL an otherwise BRILLIANT presentation.
Have you ever made a serious boo-boo in front of an audience that you were trying to impress? I have. And I probably will again. If you pay attention, you probably will hear me make one today.
Everybody’s going to make a mistake once in a while. It’s hard to get that MUDDLE OF THOUGHTS from UP HERE (point to head) to come out as BRILLIANT words (point to mouth) down here.
For some reason, though, when most people find a microphone in front of their mouth, they start trying to “PUT ON THE DOG,” as we call it here in the South. They want to be sure they “AH SPEAKING PROPERLY,” so they start using a language WITH WHICH they are totally unfamiliar WITH.
Did you get that one?
A favorite of dog putter-oners is talking about “what happened to BUBBA AND I.”
I hope you got that one.
I’ve seen characters in multi-million-dollar movies who were pretending to be a college professor or some other super-intellectual, including THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND and, WITHOUT FAIL, they’ll put on the dog and say “for he and I” instead of “for him and me.”
DON’T DO THAT!
You’d be better off saying “for me and him” the way most people do in ordinary conversation.
And that brings up another good point. Let’s say that you’ve been a total couch potato for years. One day you are so inspired by a program on television that you suddenly decide you’re gonna be a MARATHON RUNNER.
So, you get up off the couch, put on your old, stiff, dust-covered Nikes, and shoot out the front door headed for a town that’s 26 miles away. What’s going to happen? You’re gonna FALL ON YOUR FACE!
Let’s look at another scenario. You use couch potato language day after day, week after week, and month after month. Then ALL OF A SUDDEN, you have a public speech to give. What’s gonna happen? YOU’RE GONNA FALL ON YOUR FACE!
If you want to be a serious runner, what do you do? You start off running a little bit each day, right? And you use every opportunity to practice and build up your running muscles.
If you want to be a SERIOUS SPEAKER, then you also use every opportunity to build up your SPEAKING muscles. Don’t let couch potato language come out of your mouth – NOT EVER!
Whether you’re speaking to your intimate other, your child, your dog, or to a clerk at a convenience store, PRACTICE for that marathon.
Don’t PUT ON THE DOG, but be your best self all the time. And then when you do have to run a marathon with your mouth, you’ll finish the course in style.
Now, let’s get into that other good stuff about how to be comfortable and confident when you’re delivering a speech.
The best way to achieve that goal is to deliver about TWO MILLION speeches. If you do anything long enough, you can get laid-back with it. That’s why detective Lenny on the reruns of “Law and Order” can look at a mutilated corpse and JOKE about it. He’s USED TO IT. The blood and gore doesn’t bother him anymore.
To shorten that acclimation process and show you how to eliminate fear in virtually any situation, I’m going to run you through a few of the BASIC PRINCIPLES of a system for understanding human behavior that I call PSYCHOHARMONICS.
What Psychoharmonics does is reduce human behavior to its LOWEST denominator. The resulting principles are so SIMPLE and commonsensical that you MIGHT be tempted to reject them.
DON’T DO THAT! They work!
Develop a love for truth and seek wisdom wherever you can find it. And you’ll be a much wiser and much happier camper.
The nucleus of all behavior is the lowly GOAL. Whether you’re aware of it or not, everything you do has a goal. A goal is simply the END RESULT you want to achieve with your behavior.
The ultimate goal that is the father and mother of all goals is this: You want to be considered WORTHY by self and others. You want to feel like a 10. And you want others to regard you as a 10.
You’re here today attending this workshop because it somehow makes you feel WORTHY to be here. When you brushed your teeth, combed your hair, and put on fresh, attractive clothes this morning, the principal factor that motivated you was that you wanted to feel worthy. And you wanted all the rest of us to consider you to be a worthy person.
What constitutes a “worthy person,” of course, is dictated by each person’s own unique VALUE SYSTEM. A rice farmer in China and an urban gang leader in Atlanta would have very little in common. Each, however, by his own value system, seeks to feel worthy and be regarded as worthy by others.
What is a worthy person for you? Somebody who’s physically attractive? Intelligent? Rich? Powerful? Athletic? Sensitive? A fluent public speaker? All of the above? Each of those factors, along with many others, goes into your little VALUE SYSTEM that is as unique as your fingerprints.
Throughout every moment that you’re awake, and sometimes even when you’re dreaming, your little WORTHINESS calculator is clicking away. It’s not only evaluating you on a scale of zero to ten, but it’s also evaluating everybody and everything of which you’re aware.
If intelligence occupies a large portion of your value system, and a person you value makes you feel STUPID, then you’ll feel like a ZERO – at least temporarily.
AMANDA VALUED INDEPENDENCE, so when her mom, a 10-person in her life, frustrated her attempt to be independent and dress herself, Amanda felt like a zero – at least for a little while.
Tears come when a major mindset is shattered. In our common language, we call that being brokenhearted.
If you value honesty, and you catch a dear friend in a lie, that person’s rating might go from ten to near zero – instantly. That also can break your heart.
And there we have the basics for defining what love is:
WHEN YOU REGARD SOMEONE AS A 10, and your relationship with that person makes you feel like a 10, you’ve achieved the ultimate goal. You interpret that rush of good-feeling emotions as being in love.
In the same way, you can love your dog, your car, your job, or anything else that you can put a label on.
It’s worth noting here that it’s those 10 people in our lives that not only give us the greatest joy, but also are the source of our greatest sorrow. A zero can’t hurt you, but a person you regard as a 10 can knock you dead with just a word.
When a 10 person MAKES US FEEL LIKE A ZERO, the typical way to deal with that pain is to take away from the offending party’s 10-ness.
Can you remember a time when you thought you were in love with somebody, and then they betrayed you or rejected you? What happened? After a while, you found yourself thinking, “You know, he REALLY is a jerk. I don’t know what I saw in him in the first place.”
When you keep hacking away at an intimate other’s 10-ness until you have only a couple of points left, the relationship is in BIG trouble.
If, on his best day, you consider your mate a 2, and your relationship with him often makes you feel like a zero, THEN YOU’RE NOT IN LOVE; you’re in a rut.
With all that great insight, we now also know how to love another person, don’t we? Sure we do. All you have to do is figure out your loved one’s value system and then, BY THEIR VALUE SYSTEM, make them feel worthy.
If my honey values intelligence, beauty, and independence, then I do and say things that make her feel intelligent, beautiful, and independent.
If I want to hurt her, what do I do? I say and do things to make her feel stupid, ugly, and dependent.
Unfortunately, a lot of “good ol’ boys” do exactly that. And what does Bubba usually have to say about it? “Well, I really do love her, but she’s jes’ hard to get along with.”
What we’ve discussed so far is pretty easy to understand, but, with apologies, we must now muddy up the waters a bit.
You’re NOT JUST ONE PERSON with one set of values and goals. You have at least four persons all wrapped up in your one thin, little skin. And quite often, they’re at war with one another.
Today is the 150th anniversary of Sigmund Freud’s birth, so it’s appropriate that we mention him. He used the metaphorical Id, Ego, and Super Ego to explain human behavior, but the various personalities discovered by Psychoharmonics are not mere metaphors. They’re real.
You have THREE EMOTIONAL MINDSETS that are mutually exclusive and exhaustive. That means when you’re in one, you can’t be in another, and you have to be in one of the three at all times.
These emotional mindsets are connected to distinctive selves that occupy separate spaces in your brain. These selves are dominated respectively by the emotions of love, hate, and fear.
When you’re truly loving anything, you’re loving everything of which you’re aware. When you’re madly in love, you love everything and everybody.
When you’re hating anything, you’re hating everything and everybody at that moment. Thus we have so-called “displaced aggression.” You get mad at the boss, shoot birds at other drivers on the expressway, and then cuss out your mate and kick the dog when you get home.
Fear works the same way.
As a speaker, you can use this natural law to your advantage anytime you’re facing an audience, whether it’s one person or a million.
What you do is make sure that you’re maintaining a MINDSET OF PERCEPTUAL LOVE for that audience.
What is perceptual love? It’s just a feeling of warm, personal regard for the object of your attention.
The action that goes with love is nurturance.
The action that goes with hate is destruction.
The action that goes with fear is avoidance.
So how do you generate a mindset of love?
All mindsets are CONTROLLED BY LABELS. If you label a person “a dirty, lowdown SOB,” you’ll have a mindset of hate for that person. If you label the same person as “a dangerous, irrational maniac,” then you’ll have a mindset of fear. Label the same person “a dear and valued friend,” and you’ll have a mindset of love for him or her.
And THERE’S THE KEY to total control of your mindsets and your emotions. Once you put a label on something, you have no control over the mindset it generates. The label automatically conjures up the associated mindset. A jerk is a jerk is a jerk. You can never feel lovingly toward a jerk. But you do have total control over what labels you use! And that’s a beautiful thing.
Use positive labels for everything and everybody you encounter and you’ll maintain a perfect mindset of love – no matter what situation you’re in.
Norman Vincent Peale made a habit of considering every person he met as “the MOST IMPORTANT PERSON in the world.”
Put loving labels on your audience and you’ll see that, indeed, perfect love does cast out fear. It also casts out hate. You cannot fear or hate an audience when you’re loving them.
In Psychoharmonics, I call the loving self Spiritual, the hating self Genetic, and the fearful self Imprinted. There’s a fourth self, the rational, intellectual personality, that I call Cognitive. The Cognitive self is totally devoid of emotion. It’s the Mr. Spock of StarTrek fame.
Your Cognitive self can be used as a tool by any one of the three emotional selves. Your WISEST AND BEST SELF that most often will find win-win solutions to problems is created when Cognitive and Spiritual team up.
Your HATING GENETIC SELF is the dumbest and will get you in all kinds of trouble. He can’t see past the moment at hand. All he wants is instant gratification of his basic needs for such things as food, sex, rest, etc. When those impulses get him into trouble, he jumps ship and leaves it up to the quivering Imprinted and the apologetic Spiritual to deal with the situation.
Your FEARFUL IMPRINTED SELF can be pretty stupid, too. When your Cognitive-Spiritual team studies for a test and then your fearful Imprinted self takes over when you open your test booklet, you’re in big trouble.
Imprinted didn’t study for the test, so he CAN’T REMEMBER ANYTHING! So you panic. And the more fearful you become, the less you remember. Been there? Done that?
DRUGS PUT THE VARIOUS SELVES TO SLEEP at different rates for different people. For some, alcohol knocks out the Spiritual self, and so you have a mean drunk.
For others, the Imprinted and Genetic selves go to sleep, and what you have left is the sweet drunk. Sometimes Cognitive is knocked out and you have a binger who can’t remember where he’s been or what he’s done for several days.
Earlier, I said that the ultimate goal of all behavior is to be considered worthy by self and others. Unfortunately, that’s true for most of us. The latter part of that equation, however, is a major source of stress for human beings.
When it’s your goal to be considered worthy by others, you’re violating the Amanda principle. You’re maintaining an impossible goal, because ANY GOAL you attempt to set for anything or anybody other than yourself is an IMPOSSIBLE GOAL.
And the source of all stress is the harboring in your own mind of one or more impossible goals.
Every time you set a goal, it CREATES A LITTLE TENSION in your body and mind. Tension is good. That’s your motivation. Tension is what got you out of bed this morning and got you here on time. Tension is winding up your rubber band.
Stress, on the other hand, is TENSION THAT HURTS. Stress is not a good thing. Stress will make you sick. Stress can even kill you.
Let me say again that the source of all stress is the harboring in your own mind of one or more impossible goals.
Any goal you try to set for anybody else is an impossible goal. Yet we waste tons of our precious, limited energy trying to manipulate other people into loving us, forgiving us, serving us, and honoring us.
If you manage to cancel all of those impossible goals, you’ve eliminated 90% of your stress.
There are other impossible goals that cannot be achieved because of time, space, or circumstances.
You cannot achieve two or more conflicting goals. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You can’t be here now, and somewhere else now.
You can’t do anything yesterday or even a moment ago. You can’t be a child again. You can’t change your genes or alter what they’ve made of you.
Whether you’re riding down the highway or standing in front of a huge audience, anytime you’re feeling stressed, ask yourself, “What impossible goal am I maintaining right now?”
Find it and cancel it.
It’s that simple. Do that, and do it right, and the stress disappears.
Again, don’t jump right off the couch and try running a marathon. PRACTICE ON THE LITTLE STUFF FIRST, and then when the big stuff comes along, you’ll be ready for it.
A good place to start practicing is on the highway. Cancel the goal for all of those other “stupid jerks” to honor you by staying out of your space. Cancel the goal for that “inconsiderate SOB” to serve you by having a high regard for your safety.
The first step toward achieving that goal is to get rid of the “stupid jerk” and “inconsiderate SOB” labels and replace them with “lost sheep,” “poorly programmed neighbor,” or some other label that doesn’t generate a mindset of hate.
You CAN’T BE MAD AT A LOST SHEEP who is so misguided that he recklessly weaves in and out of traffic, creating a hazard for all around him. I say “him,” because I know that you ladies never do that kind of thing, right?
With that foundation for goal setting, choosing labels, canceling impossible goals, and so forth, you are now ready to acquire a skill that is essential for effective oral communication.
Some years ago, I worked as an International Economic Developer for the State of Georgia. I entertained business executives from all over the world and helped them to find a location for their office or manufacturing plant. One gentleman called me on a regular basis to arrange trips for his various clients. I’ll change the name to avoid any possibility of embarrassment, but here is basically how he began every conversation:
“Uhhhhhh, Meester Thomas, uhhhhhh Harikari here, uhhhhh Bank of….. Japan.” Having learned English as an adult, he was having to laboriously translate one word at a time from his native Japanese into English.
One time this gentleman called right after I had taken a course to learn some Japanese phrases. When he finished his little spiel, I immediately responded with, “Harikari san, hisashi buri des ne?” Roughly, that means it’s been a while since I’ve heard from you. How are you?
His shocked response was, “How you know that?”
But, WHY ALL THE UHS?
As with most of us, when we have somebody’s attention – when somebody is listening to us – we feel compelled to have all of that TIME AND SPACE FILLED with noise of some kind. If we can’t think of the right words right away, we fill the space with uhs or some other junk words.
Some people use “you know,” “like,” “I mean,” and other audible pauses. They are all equally annoying.
So, what do you do to eliminate these habits? Just cancel the goal to have all the space filled with noise. Set the goal to relax and be comfortable with silent pauses. Once you mentally commit to that goal and start practicing it every time you open your mouth, the habitual uhs eventually will be gone with the wind.
With some people, uhs are used almost like punctuation. They’re not even aware that they’re doing it. They use them as commas and periods. “And-duhs” are used like semicolons. As with children who’ve learned to speak from poorly educated adults, the uhs are just a bad habit. Habits can be changed.
If you start really listening to people being interviewed on the radio or on television, you’ll see how prevalent the uh-virus is.
PRESIDENT BUSH is a major sufferer. So is his Secretary of State and many other staffers. Do you think they might be trying to flatter the boss by imitating him?
Even seasoned reporters with eight-figure salaries get bitten by the uh-bug when they don’t have a script to read.
Sometimes, the only way you can become aware of how big a problem you have with audible pauses is to record yourself and then play the tape back. Students in a class I taught recently were amazed at how many uhs they were using.
With that said, I’m going to stop talking in just a minute or two and we’ll spend the rest of our time with questions and answers and any relevant comments you might have from your own experience. That’ll give us all a chance to see how we do without a script.
Before you start your questions and comments, however, I’d like to share a little story about Albert Einstein that I found on the Internet.
After giving one speech after another for several weeks, Dr. Einstein finally confided to his chauffeur that he was bored with it all and would really like to take a break.
His driver, who looked remarkably like this great genius, said, “Well, Dr. Einstein, I’ve been with you all these years and, believe it or not, I know your standard speech by heart. I feel sure I could do as good a job with it as you do.”
“Why don’t we try it, then” Einstein beamed.
So, right before they went into the auditorium for the next speech, the chauffeur and Dr. Einstein traded hats.
The driver then confidently walked up on the stage and delivered Einstein’s speech brilliantly, even mocking his German accent. Even more amazing, he was able to answer one question after another from the very sophisticated gathering of brilliant scientists.
Toward the end of the session, however, one pompous gentleman spent a great deal of time exhibiting his vast knowledge as he posed a very complex question concerning the formation of anti-matter.
Without missing a beat, the chauffeur fixed the professor with a steely stare and said, “Sir, the answer to that question is so simple that I will let my chauffeur, who is sitting in the back, answer it for me.”
And so, if your questions are too simple, I also reserve the right to refer them to my chauffeur.