From my elementary school years (shortly after the earth cooled), one of my earliest memories is this: My teacher asking me to “Speak up” as in “We can’t hear you!” Considering what I do for a living this may sound ridiculous now, but back then my shyness was real.
In Mrs. Hoffman’s kindergarten class there was no shortage of the sounds of amped up 5-year-olds bouncing off the walls, trying to get used to a new pattern of organized activity. I was great at playtime, but not so hot at speaking in public. Pressure was on when asked to answer a question in front of my peers.
It didn’t take long to realize that speaking, and speaking freely, takes some courage. Yes, it’s important to choose what is said and where, what’s appropriate for the surroundings and the audience, but most people hate the thought of speaking in public.
Throughout life, the heat is on to say the right thing in the right place, or else. “Political correctness” has now made free expression even more challenging.
At most weddings, there comes a point where the minister will say, “If anyone can show just cause why this couple cannot lawfully be joined together in matrimony, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
In that one moment, it’s make it or break it time. Most often the only time someone pipes up at that point is in the movies.
More questions come to mind: First, forever is a long time. So don’t miss the opportunity. But what if you were having a “cat’s got your tongue” moment (whatever that means)? You also have to avoid being distracted by “looking a gift horse in the mouth.”
And is it “peace” or “piece?” I will assume the old saying means, “Well then, don’t ever bring up anything in the years ahead. From this point forward, put a cork in it.”
If the spelling makes it “hold your piece,” we may enter a new dilemma about Second Amendment and “concealed/carry” gun rights in public gatherings.
But I digress. Back to Kindergarten.
I’ve shared the breakthrough moment in my columns in recent years but it bears repeating: Mrs. Hoffman helped knock me out of my early shyness when I turned in some sloppy work and sheepishly whispered, “I’m sorry I made a mistake.” Her loving, yet in-your-face way to shift my gears was to yell, “MARKIE, I’M SICK AND TIRED OF YOUR MISTAKES!”
These days she would be sent on a trip to a little room with attorneys, but then she was spot-on, and it worked. Tough love.
Moving forward, I was encouraged to create, to flourish, to paint and draw and express myself. Out my self-imposed shell came I, finding ways to rise above shyness. As the next couple of years went by, I dabbled in self-taught ventriloquism and magic tricks, testing my show biz skills on other kindergarten classes.
In retrospect, the ventriloquist props I created may have helped me most. I could still hide behind my occasional shyness by living through the little goofy doll sitting on my knee. It was sort of an accidental “Public Speaking for Dummies” lesson. I was the one doing the learning.
Eventually I discovered that using voice impersonations would help me find a new comfort zone. (I once emceed an entire junior high talent show using everyone else’s voices, except mine). In the years after that I realized I could simply be me.
Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick.” The Tremeloes sang “Silence is Golden,” while Simon and Garfunkel belted out “The Sounds of Silence” (fairly loudly, too).
Winston Churchill minced no words: “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once, then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time—a tremendous whack.”
It’s also been said that if everyone likes what you say, something is wrong with your message.
Here’s my point: Life is about expression. We are all entitled to our opinion, and among our God-given rights are those reflected in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.
So use it or lose it, and don’t miss your moment.
What do you need to express—to write or say—in your relationships, career and in the public square? Sure, it’s important to choose the right time, factoring in love, empathy and facts. But what’s keeping you from doing this, from finding new strength, boldness, courage—and peace of mind?
— by Mark Larson
Larson is a veteran Southern California radio/television personality and media consultant. His voice is heard on KPRZ 1210AM, and his weekday talkshow airs 6-9 a.m. on KCBQ 1170AM. Learn more at www.marklarson.com.