Mr. D.C. EAGLE LEATHER 1997-1998

Some advice on writing and delivering a great speach

The leather contest you have your heart set on winning is coming up, and now you face the overwhelming task of preparing something to say. What do you do? Where do you begin? Well, with pencil and paper naturally. Write, write, edit, and re-write. Dive in and compose three or four different speeches. Working on several versions will ultimately help you to hone that perfect speech. Since a typical speech is one to three minutes in length, not that long relatively speaking, start working on your speech early and you will have ample time for re-writes. If you are having writer's block here's a hint: check out local gay periodicals for current news and stories, surf the net for leather web sites, and dig back through old (circa 1970-1990) copies of leather magazines. These can be great resources for data, history, and they can spark an idea.

Write and speak about something you believe in, something that is important to you. That way, when you're on-stage you'll speak with more conviction and credibility. Knowing the topic will make you less likely to forget what you are going to say.

Time your speech. In the IML format (which is a great format to follow) you only have ninety seconds to speak, after which the microphone is automatically shut off. If your speech is too long as you practice reading it, shorten it, so that it will read comfortably in whatever the allotted timeframe is.

You must capture the attention of the audience and the judges. You will set the tone and tenor of your time on-stage in the first five seconds as you speak. Forget being subtle. Select the key points you are going to address, and lead your speech with the most significant of these. Pleasantries like "hello, how are you, I'm having a wonderful weekend, It's great to be here etc." seem to work on paper. They are conversational and they sound warm and familiar, but they waste valuable time on-stage. Your audience already knows that you are either having a good time, or that you are nervous as hell and about to piss on yourself. Either way, it's unnecessary to articulate that which is obvious. Instead, get to the point. Avoid rambling, and avoid repeating material. People will be listening to you, not reading your words off of a page, so short sentences (soundbites) work best. Remember this rule: one idea, one sentence. A dazzling display of the English language might feed your ego by showcasing your vocabulary, intellect, and cleverness, but it can make your speech awkward and difficult for the audience to follow. Not that you have to "dumb-down" what you intend to say. Just be clear and concise.

Everyone has a rhythm, a style, a cadence, and a manner of speaking that is unique. Re-writing and editing your writing will help to reveal YOUR voice. As you compose a speech don't try to be Shakespeare. The message you are creating will not come down from your brain through your arms and hands and out onto the paper as sparkling, finished, dynamic prose. Nobody is that good, and if they are, they should be writing the great literature of our day. Write down your ideas first without worrying about spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Then, after you have collected some ideas you like, go back and refine them. Play with the language, clarify expressions, and pinpoint what you mean. Listen to the sound and rhythm of your text, and listen to the sound of your own voice. Try recording yourself as you practice and then listen to the results. The message here is simple. It's not just what you say but how you say it as well. More on that in a moment.

Editing. This is where you distill your monologue into its basic, essential, and practical elements. This is where you get down to the "nitty gritty" of what you mean. Hold it! The phrase "nitty gritty" is a perfect example of something you should avoid in speechwriting. Expressions of this type are commonly interspersed in ordinary conversational dialogue. Still, "nitty gritty" is a hackneyed phrase; a form of shorthand with no primary meaning. In using such vernacular you are suggesting to those listening to you that you do not command the right words to express yourself well. A speech laden with cliches, expressions, sayings, and colorful metaphors will likely be trite, superficial, simplistic, and sound like a bad piece of poetry. The fix: after you complete your first draft, go back and look for cliches and overused expressions. Ask yourself what is the precise meaning of what I have written, and what ideas am I really attempting to express. When you decipher the answer, write THOSE words down and then you will have the skeleton of your text. Do this as many times as you feel it necessary to refine your remarks. Smart money: get a thesaurus.

Ok, so now you have written a dynamic speech, one that you are proud of. The trouble is, if you don't deliver it effectively, you might as well not have written it at all. First, consider your technical delivery. If folks can't hear you then you words will be lost. It seems simple enough yet the onus is on you. In some cases you will have an audio technician and in some cases not. Microphones and audio systems vary widely in terms of their quality and ability to reproduce sound. Usually, it is wise to hold the mike very close to your mouth. Speak clearly. Pronounce your words distinctly and with vigor. If you are naturally soft-spoken, push yourself to speak loudly. If you hear your own voice coming back to you then you are probably speaking loudly enough. If you can't hear your own voice, belt it out from the gut. Sometimes loudspeakers may be pointed away from you and/or the stage. This can make hearing yourself difficult, but don't panic. Generally, if you are projecting your voice, the resonating of your 'dulcet tones' should give you some sense that your voice is being carried throughout the room.

The second point to reckon with is your presence and the power of your delivery. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of public speaking to articulate, to convey, and to teach. It's a whole course by itself. I can't teach you how to have presence, how to have charisma, how to have style. I can mention a few key points that I think will help you. 1) Remember to breathe. 2) Make eye contact with the judges and folks in the audience. 3) Use facial expressions to reinforce what you are saying. 4) Use phrasing, intonation, inflexion and emphasis on keywords to give your oration feeling and texture. In other words, add some flavor, some snap, some pizzazz, to your words. Don't drone on and on in a monotone, you'll put everyone to sleep. It's not just what you say but how you say it. Caution. Leather contests are usually fairly staid, so working the runway like a drag queen will not get you more points. Indeed you'll likely lose points if you "perform." We're looking for real conviction here, not drama.

Sometimes contestants choose to share personal stories as part of their speech. Ok fine. Just be careful. Your emotions will run high during the competition. If as a part of your speech you talk about something traumatic, sentimental, or painful it may cause you to become distressed on-stage. Your words may display anger or some other emotion you do not intend. Worse, you could breakdown sobbing which is generally uncomfortable to watch. If you must get personal, try putting a positive spin on your anecdote. Give your message an empowering, uplifting voice that will inspire your fellow leatherfolk. Treat your brothers and sisters to a message of gladness not sadness.

Only you can decide whether it is better for you to memorize a speech, or whether it is better for you to ad-lib based on an outline of the speech you write. There are advantages and disadvantages with each method. Memorizing a speech means that you MUST "know your lines." If you suddenly forget your words, you may find yourself unable to recover. This is a true disaster, a nightmare from which you cannot escape. I have seen it happen and it is ugly. Conversely, a memorized speech is the single best opportunity during a contest to dazzle and astound the audience, the judges, and most importantly to deliver a bold message. The question is can you pull it off? If you're not good at memorizing things, if you get nervous when you're under a lot of pressure, if you haven't had a lot of experience speaking in front of audiences, memorizing a speech is a big gamble. Improvising is significantly less pressure, and considering the pressure that you will probably feel throughout the contest, avoiding extra pressure can be wise. However, if you choose to wing it, unless you have a true gift for speaking extemporaneously, you will most likely sacrifice the chance to shine on stage as a well-polished pearl. It's a safe bet that ad-libbed remarks won't have the crispness of a scripted speech. Did you ever count the number of times someone says "um" when they're speaking?

Irrelevant of the outcome of the contest, the speech portion of any leather competition is a rare opportunity to speak to a significant portion of our leather tribe. It's like having a commercial spot in the superbowl. Isn't that really why we enter these contests, anyway? When they call your name and you walk out onto the stage remember the tribe has gathered to hear you. We are listening and it's your turn. Use it.

Wayne M. Nesbitt Mr. DC Eagle 1997-98

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