Episode 191: February 14, 2013
by Sherri Barksdale and Lisa B. Marshall
I invited my friend Sherri Barksdale, who is a writer and a fan of The Public Speaker podcast to write this week’s episode. To me, Valentine’s Day is about taking a risk for someone you love and that’s exactly what Sherri did.
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Here’s Sherri’s story:
“Last November, my parents celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. That’s 50 years of marriage! We planned a party and invited about 150 guests. On one of our planning Skype calls, I was asked to emcee the party. I wanted to make excuses and say no, but instead I said yes.
I thought a little about what I would say in advance, but I really didn’t start thinking about my actual words until a few days before the party. I sat down late one night with my laptop to work it out. The first place I went was the Quick and Dirty Tips website for the Public Speaker podcast. I’ve worked with Lisa Marshall on some writing projects in the past, and have read most of her articles and listened to her podcasts. I knew she was just the resource I needed.
SPOILER ALERT: The party was a big success and my part as the emcee went smoothly and was well-received. Now that you know how it ends, I’ll tell you how Lisa helped me get there.
I sat in my parents’ basement staring at my blank screen for a good 20 minutes. Then I remembered Lisa’s episode on How to Make a Wedding Toast. Lisa’s first tip was simple: brainstorm. Share a memorable, upbeat story. Memories should be light and funny. I looked around the basement at all the family pictures hanging on the walls. Before I knew it, stories I’d heard and fun memories came to mind. This was going to be fun.
Using Lisa’s tip about using the positive traits and the rule of three, I eventually came up with this these words to start the toast:
“To our Parents, on your Golden Anniversary. Thank you for your deep commitment to each other, your devotion to our family and to God, and for your lifelong example of adventure, risk-taking, and living life to the fullest. We raise our glass to you as you celebrate a lifetime together. “
My parents both have a great sense of humor, so it was important to incorporate that in the speech. That’s why, after the warm introduction, I went on to say, “I always knew my parents were married sometime around Thanksgiving, but only discovered this week that they actually married on Thanksgiving Day. Who gets married on Thanksgiving?!”
I paused and waited. That drew some laughs. In fact, someone in the audience yelled back to me “She wanted to marry a turkey.” More laughs followed. I used this to transition into a story about my grandmother making Thanksgiving dinner for the entire wedding party.
I threw in a few one-liners about being chosen to emcee because I was the favorite, and how some of us weren’t quite old enough to remember the 1960s. Because the tone was light and fun, some of my impromptu comments also drew laughs.
From Lisa’s podcast about humor, I learned how to pause at the right time and how to use that as a tool. If I had just written down some funny lines and run through them quickly, they probably would have bombed. But I used the pauses and played off of the audience and it worked!
My sister had researched some facts on the year my parents were married. We decided she should be the one to deliver them. I didn’t want the switch to be awkward, so I went straight to Lisa’s episode How to Present with Another Speaker for help.
While I must confess that we skipped over Lisa’s tip to practice together, we did talk about how it would work, and I made sure she knew when to join me and what I would be doing while she spoke. We used the preview/review transition (see Lisa’s article for this great tip), and it went smoothly. We used this same method to bring both my Mom and Dad up to speak. Moving between speakers with smooth transitions helped keep the audience’s attention and interest.
I considered writing out what I wanted to say and reading it. But after reading Lisa’s article Read, Memorize, or Use Notes?, I knew this was a bad idea and I would lose the audience right from the start. According to the article, memorizing is risky too because your delivery will likely be rote, monotone, and impersonal.
So I did exactly what Lisa suggested. I practiced. I practiced before I went to bed. The next morning, I practiced in the shower, while drying my hair, and on the deck with a cup of coffee. I recited the toast I’d written to each of my siblings. Because I wasn’t reading, I could make eye contact and focus on my body language. Because I didn’t memorize, I could ad lib a little and change things based on the audience’s reaction.
I didn’t get nervous about speaking to 150 people until I walked into the room. I remembered what I’d read in Lisa’s articles about overcoming speaker nervousness. Nervous energy is a good thing! I stood at the podium for a few minutes and visualized how my speech would go. Once people started arriving I used my nervous energy to actively socialize and introduce myself to the guests. As I waited for the signal that it was time to start, I took a few deep breaths, closed my eyes for a brief second, and then it was time.
I’m so thankful that I didn’t make excuses and back out like I wanted to at first. Using Lisa B. Marshall’s public speaking tools helped me relax and deliver my speech like a pro. I know now that if I’m asked to do it again, I’ll say yes. And I’ll enjoy every minute of it.”
Wow, what a great story Sherri! I’m so glad everything turned out well -- otherwise I’d be in big trouble! I hope that her story acts as inspiration for you! This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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