Tougher than public speaking: Not taking the opportunity

“A gentleman – and a gentle man.

“A gentle man. He never drank a beer and never touched a cigarette, in his entire life. He was proud of that. He rarely swore and I remember only a few times when I was a child that he lost his temper.

“And a gentleman. He would awake in the middle of the night to provide medicine for a sick child—compare that with today’s health care—and though he grumbled a bit, he would get up from supper many, many evenings to fill prescriptions when a clerk in the drug store attached to our home would ring a bell.”

I wrote—and said—the above about my father.

I added: “Strength and determination. He twice jumped into pools to save kids who were drowning or near-drowning. He hated to see things stand the ‘way they always were,’ and worked diligently to establish a chamber of commerce in town, presided over it and the local Kiwanis, and pushed hard to replace the single strand of red and green light bulbs borough workers hung around the town square each Christmas with real decorations.”

I made those remarks in his eulogy some years ago. I had people come up to me after the funeral and express appreciation for what I said—and then add: “I could never do that!”

No one said it was easy.

I did the same thing two weeks ago at the funeral for my father-in-law. In those comments, I spoke about how, unlike within most relationships, I had transitioned from the informal to the formal in terms of names. I had stopped some years ago calling him by his universal nickname in favor of his more-formal first name. I did that, I told those in attendance, because of respect.

“Respect for someone who had the uncanny ability to seem like a father to so many people, even those outside his immediate or extended family … respect for someone who, faced with the challenges new technology wrought on his old business, developed a new and successful business … respect for someone who was that rare type of person who could build relationships with people seemingly without effort.”

Again, I had a number of people speak to me afterward, saying how much they appreciated the remarks.

Certainly, such comments made me feel good—but I don’t mention them for accolade. I note them because, while they held my father-in-law in similar esteem, they did not take the opportunity to voice their feelings.

I would tell them doing so was very hard. Again, though, no one said it was easy.

In addition to my work for Diakon, I teach college part-time and one of my frequent classes is public speaking. On the first day of class, I quote a few brief parts of my father’s eulogy to make an important point—even if it’s scary, learn to speak publicly.

Certainly, I hope that the students’—and your—occasions for public speaking are not as difficult or tragic as a funeral—that those occasions entail an award given or received or a toast or reminiscence at a wedding or anniversary.

No matter the occasion, however, I tell them to practice speaking skills because quite assuredly there will be a time someday to do so in public. And if you are fearful, you may very well lose the chance to make remarks that honor—or remember—someone important to you.

No one said it’s easy. But not being able to do so, in the shadow of lost opportunity, can be even tougher.

William Swanger
SVP, Corporate Communications

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