THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE are signing up for public speaking classes, the press reports.
In East Asia, applicants want to talk their way into better jobs.
In South Asia, classes are taken by “undertrials” who want to clear their names. (Undertrial is an Asian-English word meaning “person awaiting court hearing”. Indians are highly litigious and cases take generations to come to court, so everyone in India is an undertrial, including babies, fetuses, spermatozoons, ovums, etc.)
Everybody’s trying to be more eloquent these days. But in my humble opinion, people need courses in how to SHUT UP.
The other night, your humble narrator had to act as Master of Ceremonies at a function.
“The timing is really tight,” the organizer told me, handing me a running order. “Try to keep things moving on schedule.”
Looking at the schedule caused my eyebrows to rise cartoon-like over my head. The speakers had told the organizer they would just “say a few words”, so she had allotted them three minutes each. No speaker in the HISTORY OF THE WORLD has ever successfully kept to a three-minute time slot.
This is what actually happened.
At 8.00 pm, the ballroom doors opened. Nobody entered.
By 8.10, organizers using whips and electric cattle prods managed to get half the people away from the free drinks in the foyer.
At 8.20, threats of violence persuaded about half of those to sit at the right tables.
At about 8.25, I introduced the first speaker. Let’s call him Mr Roy (not his real name).
First 42 seconds: Mr Roy stands up at his table, makes a joke to the people he is sitting with, and strolls to the stage, pausing to shake hands with four other people on the way.
Next 58 seconds: Mr Roy waits for the microphone to be adjusted to his height. Then he hits the microphone and blows into it. He turns it upside down, switches it off, switches it on, turns it the right way, hits it one more time and blows into it again. He opens his speech by deafening everyone with the words: “Is this thing on?”
The next four minutes are filled by an impromptu pre-amble about what led up to his being there, followed by an irrelevant and inappropriate joke.
Mr Roy eventually takes out his reading glasses and reads his “three minute speech”. It lasts 12.5 minutes. At the end, he spontaneously invites a fellow committee member to join him on stage and add a word or two. She says: “I haven’t prepared anything and I can’t talk off the cuff.” She then talks off the cuff for a further 12 minutes.
By this time, we are 52 minutes behind schedule and there are numerous other speakers who all expect to just “say a few words”. It was going to be a looooong evening. I couldn’t blame the speakers. It was the organizer I wanted to throttle. But then I would end up as an “undertrial”. And I, too, would be given free public speaking lessons.
Organizers: if you haven’t built into the schedule a margin of three to four hours for speakers who over-run, you should give the master of ceremonies the tools he needs to keep the meeting on time. A Taser would do nicely.