What I learned about speech-writing, in Grade 8

I promised myself that this is my year to declutter, and I’ve been pretty consistent about chipping away at my stuff. Every so often, I get a little “reward,” an item from my past that I’m excited to rediscover.

Yesterday, I found some handouts from my Grade 8 English teacher, Mr. Dutcher, including his guidelines for making a speech.

As an adult, I’ve learned how to speak in public, but in school, there were few things that I found more intimidating.

Looking at the typewritten guidelines, I wondered how relevant I would find them  now, and whether I’d internalized any of the advice without being consciously aware of doing so.

“Speak about your points in a conversational manner.” Yup. That’s a big one for me. I do write a “script” for longer speeches, but I always try to make it sound like something I would say if I was just talking off-the-cuff. No one likes to be read to, at least not when they’re listening to a speech.

“Choose a topic of genuine interest to yourself and your audience.” No argument there.

But the next tip gave me pause for a moment, because I’m writing a memoir on the year I lost my dad. “Avoid subjects that deal with death and similar topics.” No, not a problem. I’m not in Grade 8 any more.

The guidelines touch on eye contact, humour, how to illustrate points and deal with nervousness, even how to walk across the stage before beginning (“crisply, thinking only of your speech.”)

Given that I became a writer, it’s strange I struggled with English all the way through high school. Even though I was an avid reader, it wasn’t until I was in university that I became adept at writing essays and papers.

But I have fond memories of Mr. Dutcher’s classes – learning how to speed-read, expanding my vocabulary with words like “triskaidekaphobia” and “ennui,” and – best of all – studying the lyrics of Simon & Garfunkel songs.

Even though I don’t remember making any speeches, I must have – otherwise, why would he have given us the guidelines?

I can’t bring myself to get rid of them just yet.







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