4/16/14

The Sensitivity Speech: How I Yelled at My Classmates and They Loved Me For It

Anybody who's known me for a long time probably has a memory of me writing.  I used to journal in the summer sunlight of my grandma's condo.  I wrote during class.  I wrote during pro-wrestling pay-per-views.  (You can razz me for this, but it still gave me a pretty good story idea.)

Here's one of my favorite memories from a time when my writing - and its delivery - grabbed some serious attention.

It was 10th grade.  I was 15 years old, taking the standard, required speech class.  I don't remember what kind of speech Ms. Reffett assigned to us for that week, but I came up with one of my classic out-of-the-box ideas.  I'd noticed in giving other speeches that my classmates didn't pay much attention.  They slumped over their desks or down in their chairs, staring off at nothing.

I wrote a speech about sensitivity, being observant and responsive to others' needs.  I argued that life is too short to nitpick and get hung up on the little things.

Question Mark on Paper

My mom looked over my speech and noticed I hadn't written an opening for it.  "Do you know how you're going to start it?" she prompted me.  Oh, yeah - of course.  I knew.  But I didn't tell anybody what I planned to say whether they were going to be there or not.

I took my turn and took the floor.  As usual, half-zombies sat half asleep in front of me.  I opened my speech by raising my voice and reprimanding the whole class for being rude to me.  I'd prepared a speech, and they weren't even listening.  Within thirty seconds, I'd woken them up.  They sat up.  Their eyes opened.  And their eyes actually stayed on me.

My classmates got so involved with what I was saying about human interaction and compassion that when I used a reference to Mexican jumping beans, they jumped at the chance to point out my insensitivity to the Latino community.  (Even though that's exactly what they're called.)  I was so grateful the class was paying attention and participating of their own volition, I didn't even point this out.  I let them have the victory.  And I remember glancing at Ms. Reffett, who had a huge smile on her face.  Victory for me, too.

The next time I walked up to give a speech, one of my classmates asked me, "Are you gonna yell at us again?"  Nope.  I never tried that technique a second time.  Eventually, I think the attention dropped off , but it was never as bad as it was before I pointed out their sluggish indifference.

Like some wild west sheriff who wakes up a sleepy town with his new laws, crusty attitude, and fast-drawing guns, I brought voice and energy to an otherwise low-key classroom.

That's how you give a speech.

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