Fellow Toastmasters

Fellow Toastmasters,

I want my words to be gracious, wise and well-seasoned. However, that is a fair and faraway goal; right now, my concern is to get rid of meaningless noise: uh, ah, like you know? I came across an old, 16th century pamphlet on this by a Professor Theophilus K Bandersnatch of Oxford. Unfortunately, it was written in Latin and I can not understand much of it so I will just summarize in my own words the Bandersnatchian Theory of Stray Guttural Avoidance.

There are four aspects of stray guttural avoidance: friendship, self-knowledge, work, and art.

I start, of course, with friendship. When Marisa pointed out a rate of 4 per minute, I was appalled – not only about the rate but also that I was not even aware of speaking that way. And then Barbara noticed nearly all of my sentences included some sort of meaningless guttural. Depressing! However, that is what friends are for: to point out hidden faults while at the same time giving the pill a coating of good will. Friendship is much more than that, of course, including being at ease with one another which can also, hopefully, help to reduce the number of stray gutturals. Moreover, only among friends would I attempt to talk on something my very speech might disprove!

Friendship calls for friendship in return which means, in this case I think, taking the critique seriously – which leads me to self-knowledge: to listen to hear what I am, in fact, saying. Are the stray gutturals just bad habit, are they an unnoticed nervous twitch, do thy come from an inflated opinion of the sound of my own words? I want to focus on this last aspect a bit: to punctuate silence with a stray guttural is to claim that my meaningless noise is better than silence. That’s absurd, and also childish. Hopefully, recognizing that will enable me to both eliminate stray gutturals and to make better use of pauses and points, to develop better timing and rhythm which is part of what I meant by saying I want my words to be well-measured.

To friendship and self-knowledge, I must add effort, to work at what I’m going to say, to plan and [horrors!] to write the speech out beforehand. Being lazy, I’d like to avoid that stage; however, I can only practice and work on the delivery of the speech if I’ve written out at least some sort of draft beforehand. Both the writing and the delivery have to be worked on and developed if I’m not to be at a loss for words and fall back on a guttural to mark time. I admit that I have to force the effort to write out the speech whereas once I’m standing in front of you, now, it is easy to talk, receiving energy from you.

Finally, to friendship, self-knowledge and work, one tries to add art: to use just the right word and to make each word count within well-measured phrases. This is where poetry can help, perhaps. Not the highflown rhetoric of, say, Milton but rather the everyday talk of Frost, with its art mostly hidden from all but the careful listener. That is my ideal for a speech: to be as a silken tent, with just a touch of tautness, with the words and sentences interconnected and mutually supporting an organic structure.

These four aspects reinforce one another. For example, mentoring depends on both friendship and self-knowledge and nothing gets made without both work and art. In summary: stray gutturals can be minimized by adding self-knowledge to friendship, for a start, and then tying together with both work and art.

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