Smile – it’s your first speech!

Gollum at the Wellington airport
–Gollum at the Wellington airport

So we all have fears, right? I’m afraid of spiders, I’m not good with heights, and I’m terrified of drowning. But the most common fear of all, and definitely one of my biggest fears, is the fear of public speaking.

That’s why it’s so great to be a writer. I can write, and ponder, and rewrite until I’m happy that the words are saying what I intend them to say, and I can do it alone, where no one can see me. That’s all well and good, except that when you have a book published, there’s an expectation that you’ll have a book launch, read from your book, do interviews—lots of speaking in public about your book. And this small fact I’d managed to avoid facing until a month ago, when the Sono Nis Press catalogue came out. It was then it suddenly occurred to me. Oh oh—I really am going to have to do something about this fear of public speaking.

So, I joined Toastmasters. I’ve been going to meetings once a week for a month now, and so far I’ve managed to pretty much avoid speaking. But this weekend, when next week’s preliminary agenda arrived in my email, I noticed to my ABSOLUTE HORROR, that I’m down to do a 1.5 minute speech. It’s a smile story, so the idea is to come up with a very short story that will make people smile. I’m just hoping I don’t pass out or puke. Please, keep your fingers crossed for me!

Here’s my smile story

My name is Jenny, and as some of you may know, I’m from New Zealand, land of the long white cloud—although, most of you probably know it as the land of hobbits and Middle Earth. In New Zealand, we have two official languages—Maori, the language spoken by our native people, and the Queen’s English.

Now I admit I have a bit of an accent, but still, I’m speaking English, right?

Or am I?

I went to the supermarket the other day to buy things for dinner. I got some salad vegetables and fruit, and then I went to the meat section to pick up a couple of top sirloin medallions. But the shelf was empty.

My husband, Patrick, says, “Oh well, let’s get something else.”

But I want those medallions—I’ve been thinking about them all day, and nothing else will do. “Don’t worry, I’ll ask the butcher,” I say. So I march over to the butcher’s counter and one of the guys comes to help me.

“What can I get you?” he asks.

Well, at that precise moment I have a brain fart, like you do, and I can’t remember what the steak is called. Never mind, I think to myself, I’ll just describe it, and he will know what I mean.

“I want some steak—you know the round ones with the string around them?”

The butcher looks at me blankly, so I try to clarify.

“I looked on the shelf, and there were none there. You know, that steak with the string around them.” Because everyone knows that when someone doesn’t understand you, the best thing to do is just repeat yourself.

Another blank look, and then he says, “Stick?? Is that a kind of fish?”

{Edited to add: You might also be interested in my latest speaking nightmare.}

13 comments on “Smile – it’s your first speech!
  1. Hayley says:

    Oh that’s priceless! Carl and I are in stitches! It reminds me of when we were in the US for our honeymoon and we were terrified of tipping. So we thought McDonalds would be a safe bet. We read the menu and confidently stepped up to the counter. I asked for a fillet of fish burger and water to drink….they have no idea what water is. I had to explain 10 times but finally got what I wanted. Carl asked for a beef guacamole burger with coke. Well that took 10 minutes. They looked puzzled then said “big mac?” No? So they said “cheeseburger?” No. And so it goes on. They finally understand…or so we think… He ended up with a chicken burger!! He decided it would be simpler to just eat it!

  2. Bronwyn says:

    Hi Jenny. Love the story. Great idea about the Toastmasters. You’ll be fab. Just remember to keep smiling and telling yourself that this is the best fun you’ve ever had.

    • Jenny says:

      Fun??? Right! If I practise saying it out loud a hundred times between now and Tuesday, I should get through it, eh?

      • Bronwyn says:

        LOL. Practising is always good. But the most important time is on your way there! And of course you’ll get through it! Oh, and don’t forget your visualisation… 🙂

  3. Lea says:

    Jenny, that is so well written…put a grin on my face for sure! I love “but I’m still speaking English, right? Or am I?” It sets up the rest of your story very nicely. I hope knowing you have excellent material helps put your mind at ease. Good luck on Tuesday. Seeing how well you did your other speech, I know you can pull this off…maybe even have a bit of fun with it, too.

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks Lea! It really helped speaking the other one to you guys on Thursday – but then I thought I had two weeks to practise it! You can imagine my horror seeing they’d put me on the agenda for next week too!

      • Lea says:

        Yes, that must have been a shock–especially as you have been given so little time to prepare. You do have a great story and an open, friendly presence which works to your benefit. People will naturally take kindly to you,I guarantee it!

  4. I love this story! Just remember to speak slowly and breathe, and you’ll be fine.

    Hee hee hee….stick. Too funny.

    • Jenny says:

      Thanks Pam! Did I tell you about the time I was at the post office and I asked how much it cost to mail a letter? And she asked, “A litre of what??”

  5. tim watson says:

    Hey Jenerator, Great story! definitely made me smile’ One day at work(MEC) an elderly Japanese gentleman asked me “excuse me sir do you have bags of sleep?” Have fun and always remember the golden rule, DANCE LIKE NO ONE IS WATCHING! much aloha t-dub

  6. Wendy says:

    So, Jenny, how’d the speech go? I’ll bet they laughed and you survived. Good on you for facing the fear head-on!

    side note: I finally updated my blog and added a link to you. Of course I currently only have 3 readers but someday I hope to send folks your way 🙂

    • Jenny says:

      Hey Wendy – I guess I should give an update on the speech – watch this space later in the week!

      Thanks for adding me to your blogroll – I should start one too and introduce my three readers to your blog too 😉

      I didn’t know you made books too. I’ll have to dig out some photos of the ones I’ve made to share. Maybe it’ll inspire me to make some more after this current teaching assignment is finished at the end of October. When the winter rain sets in is a great time to get out the bookmaking supplies.

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