I have a couple of public speaking engagements coming up, and I have to fight the primal urge to get nervous. Sure, you say, it is natural to get a little biled up before a speech. But you don’t understand.
I get nervous because I have bombed before. I know what it is like.
Garth Brooks recorded a song called “The Dance,” in which he sings:
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d of had to miss the dance.
Well, Garth, I DO know the way it all might end; the way it all might go. If some of my speeches were dances, I would be the guy with two left feet. I would drop my partner when I dipped her. In “Dancing With The Stars,” I would have been eliminated before the first commercial break.
A few years ago I gave a speech to the Navy League in Monterey. I had prepared pithy comments to go with some cartoons that were to be projected on a screen. The idea was to be my own straight man. I would give a serious, dry speech, but the cartoons would contradict everything I said. It would be hysterical.
The projector didn’t work.
I was forced to “kill time” while they worked on the equipment. Unfortunately, I am not a stand up comedian, and the audience wanted to laugh. I was this guy:
(They didn’t have a ghost.)
When the projector finally got fixed, I started into my routine. “I can salvage this,” I thought to myself. “I’ll kill ’em with the cartoons.”
No one laughed.
Finally, from the back of the room, someone shouted, “We can’t see them (meaning the cartoons).”
So I had to scrap the speech and read the cartoons to the audience. Then explain them.
One of the first rules of cartooning is that if you have to explain the joke to someone, it isn’t funny.
I had to explain all of them.
By the time I finished, sweat was pouring down my back like Niagara Falls. I had tunnel vision. My lips were quivering – I fought the urge to whimper. My rush to the door seemed like it was in slow motion. It was like those nightmares when the monster is chasing you and your legs feel like they are stuck in quicksand.
So as I prepare for speech season 2012, I will do so by looking forward – not back. This allows me to focus and not be distracted by past tragedies. I will prepare a fall back plan in case they can’t see the cartoons. I will make sure there is an extra projector handy, and that the screen is big enough for everyone to read.
But what if everything works and no one laughs? What if I am forced to explain the cartoons again? There is no fall back plan for that, no exit strategy. I don’t know what I will do.
Maybe I could dance. That might work.