“I don’t think I can do this.”
“I am so nervous.”
“Can I do it in Italian?”
I challenged my students to improvise a one-minute speech. This speech couldn’t be a disorganized rant or run-on rambling sentence. They had to tell a thoughtful story. This activity struck fear in half of them and the other half was excited.
I wrote simple topics on pieces of paper like donuts, eyes, volleyball, friends, and pizza. They had to pick one out of a hat. Then they had five minutes to prepare.
I watched the five-minute frenzy. Some wrote out what they said. Some gazed into the distance sweating profusely. Some were relaxed chatting with others – the ones that I figured would wing. Some were flitting from classmate to classmate to try to get ideas.
I watched each of them speak. Some wanted to throw up. Some were a little too theatrical. Some were so nervous that they repeated the same line for thirty seconds before realizing it. Some were relied on humour. Some nailed it – a crafted story that interested the audience using metaphor.
Of course, I went last. I pulled the topic of “cake.” I immediately thought of birthday cakes. I didn’t prepare too much because of years of practice of telling stories to my children on the spot.
I began with this line, “My mom never baked me a cake for my birthday.”
I decided to talk about the Black Forest birthday cake that my mom bought me from the local grocery store that I did not like. She bought it for me every year. She would bake my favourite marble cake for other events but for my birthday, yet she would always by this cake with the unnatural-looking maraschino cherries on top. Finally one day I asked her about the cake and she looked at me confused. She assumed I liked it. I always had a piece and said how delicious it was so she kept buying it. She thought it was my favourite. I realized in that I had never said I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings considering how much money it costs and we didn’t have enough money at the time. That was my first lesson in finding my voice and not pleasing people but having the courage to choose what I want.
After my speech, I didn’t expect their reaction given the dramatic turmoil they felt as they prepared.
They asked if they can do it again tomorrow, even the ones who wanted to throw up. They asked to do this weekly or even daily. This was challenging but they want to get better.
I tell them the trick is to think bite-sized. You have one minute to make an impact. Focus on one detail and the emotion of it, and tell the heck out of it.
Don’t forget the minutiae. It is the place where you find the hidden treasures of life.