How This Once Defiant Speaker Found Her Voice

Speech class was part of my high school curriculum. Our teacher made her grading system clear. I don’t remember how speeches were graded, though probably some mix of content and performance. What sticks in my mind after all these years, were the consequences for not preparing your speech. If you missed a speech, you received 20 zeroes.

I remember the teacher standing in front of the class reiterating this fact, “You will receive 20 zeroes,” in a perfectly enunciated speech. She reminded us of this fact throughout the semester, again and again in the same way, so that you could not possibly not know what would happen if you chose not to prepare a speech.

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I was a pretty good student, in the way that I got okay grades in non-science or math classes, without trying too hard. Our family rule was that we were not allowed to get Cs and I could do that without trying too hard. Yet, even with this repeated warning (20 ZEROES!), I chose one day to not do my speech.

I remember it being a sort of act of defiance against the 20 zeroes. I don’t know if we were required to do so, but I actually stood up and went to the podium in the front of the room and said, “Pass. I’ll take the 20 zeroes.”

My guess is that I had gamed the system, figuring out exactly what grade I had and how the 20 zeroes would impact my chances of getting a B in the class. It was likely the last speech and not seeing the need to do a speech I didn’t need to do, I chose to “pass.”

I know that makes me seem like a nightmare student, but I think making students give speeches sounds pretty terrifying too. Almost as archaic as the typewriting class I had to take, which turned out to be quite helpful in the grand scheme. Of course, learning to speak in public is a good skill to have, just not something my teenage self saw the value in.

Flash Forward to Today

As an adult, I wouldn’t dream of not preparing a presentation for work. I have even worked as a public relations executive and have served as the media representative for several companies, though I prefer preparing others for the role.

It turns out, a few decades and a paycheck can do wonders for your ability to speak in front of a crowd. When I have to speak in a professional capacity, I’ve learned what I didn’t know as a kid. Preparation is best. I do much better with notes, or better yet, a script.

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But still, I prefer writing to speaking. If only we had the ability to back up, erase, and change the words as we went when we were talking. We’d all sound much more eloquent.

Recently I had a chance to read one of my blog posts about why Isolation is So Noisy on a local podcast. The first time I recorded it, I was a little nervous and read it just as it was on the page. As such, the recording was a bit stilted. At the host’s suggestion, I tried a second time. This time, I read more naturally, as if I were speaking to a crowd and ad-libbing a bit. It came out much better. Turns out there is a place where writing and speaking can co-exist, even for me.

You can listen to the recording on the Inside Stories podcast. My story starts at 15:19.

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  1. Joanne

    I had my speach all prepared but on the day I was asked to give it I just could NOT imagine getting up in front of the class to give it. I too was a straight A student (usually without working for them) but my stage fright was just that bad that I knew I’d rather fail than stand in front of the class.

  2. Carol

    Speaking in public and writing are indeed 2 different skills. Some people are better at one or the other. Occasionally someone is good at both. I do believe practice and experience are 2 great teachers in public speaking.

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