Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A great improvised opening by a very nervous speaker

On April 11th Leon Hale, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, blogged about a speech he gave fifty years ago. It was at a Chamber of Commerce banquet dinner in Eagle Lake, Texas. That’s about sixty miles west from downtown Houston, and back then would have been rather rural.

Leon will be ninety next month. He enjoys writing but strongly dislikes speaking. Leon claims that he’s never heard any sound come out of his mouth that he enjoyed.

But they had offered to pay him $100, and he needed the money, so he went. Then he apparently got so nervous he was seriously sick right before he was supposed to get up and speak. He wanted to just leave:  

“But it was too late, because somebody was already at the mike, introducing me. I heard him calling my name, and I felt that if I stood up, I would vomit into the arrangement of flowers on the head table. Or maybe I'd simply faint, which would be better.

What saved me was an opening remark that was not my own. It did come out of my mouth, but I didn't think it up. I don't know where it came from.  

The only explanation I can imagine is that an angel was hovering about and noticed that the food had run out and that part of the audience was hungry and in a bad humor. And the angel rescued me, the way heavenly spirits can perform miraculous deeds.

When I managed to stand, I grabbed a roll from my dinner plate and held it up and spoke into the mike the words that the angel gave me. They made up the strangest opening remark ever uttered at a Chamber of Commerce banquet:

‘I have here half of a beef sandwich I'd like to auction off at Table 3.’

In all my speech-making years, I never said anything that got a laugh as loud and as long. The response somehow gave me time to recover, at least enough to stumble on through.

Some Eagle Lake residents might recall that talk as the weakest and shortest they ever heard. Well, now they know why.

For me the cost of that experience was far greater than the hundred bucks. I wouldn't go through it again for 10 grand.”

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