Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taunt the gods Monday, get a good smiting Wednesday

As the solstice nears and days get shorter, time compresses and expands in other, less galactic ways. This morning I spent four hours making a 20-minute speech and took two seconds to learn a public-speaking tip I hope to remember for a lifetime.

I was speaking to the winter all-staff meeting of the Michigan Department of Education. The crowd was not only standing-room, it was overflow; my presentation was simulcast into other rooms. (A secondary, kind of warm-up lesson: If you want to pack the house, you can't beat mandatory attendance during work hours.) First I drew a picture while people watched -- I draw pictures all the time, and it still looks like a magic trick when I watch somebody else do it -- and then I unleashed my PowerPoint. Or PowerPoint Lite, I suppose. I don't do spinning letters or fade-ins or anything. I just project comic strips up on the screen and let them build one frame at a time. That way, I can read the strip aloud without people skipping ahead and wondering if it's OK to laugh yet because Mister Slow Narrator is still two balloons away from the punch line.

Hey. These are all educators, it dawned on me. So I did something I've been wanting to do since first grade. I forced the teachers to take turns reciting the material. Each frame I opened, I'd point to a new member of the audience, and they'd read it in the same tentative tone, with the ever so slightly exaggerated diction I remember using when I was called on to do the same thing. It was novel, it brought an interactive touch to the speech, and I dare say I noticed a little excited "pick me, no, pick her, oh, please don't pick me I'm lost" vibe. It was fun. It worked great, until it didn't. So here's your lesson:

If you're going to point to people and command them to read aloud, learn in advance where the delegates from the Michigan School for the Deaf are sitting.

Huge thanks to my friends in the Department of Education; the ones who put on a great program, the ones who enlighten and entertain with their own presentations, and the ones who graciously suffer certain fools. The guy I called on didn't miss a beat. He signed the dialogue flawlessly.


Jacob said...

I probably shouldn't be reading your blog as I have finals starting tomorrow, but I'm glad I did because that story was quite entertaining! Thanks for the laugh!

Al B said...

If this one doesn't make it into your next book I shall be disappointed.