I spent this weekend at the first annual Leadership Conference for the Grand Lodge of Nebraska. I will admit, I had originally thought about discussing the importance of leadership in the Masonic community and our lives, however, I think that will be saved for the future. There was something that was a good deal more pressing to me at that conference. You see, I am not a very good public speaker. I do not currently hold an officer position in Eastern Star, and I found that my skills from Public Speaking 101 my freshman year of college found me severely lacking, and left me feeling quite ill.
What does Public Speaking have to do with Masonry?
It may seem odd at first, but one of the best places to do public speaking is at a Masonic function. Most everyone there has had to get up in front of a crowd and spoken before, so they understand if you are nervous. In addition to this, you will not find a less judgemental crowd as far as your public speaking skill is concerned. Everyone listening is far more interested in what you have to say, than if you say “um” too many times. The best reason that Masonic organizations are beneficial for public speaking skills is because it makes you do it. Like any other acquired skill, public speaking gets easier with practice, and all of the Masonic organizations give you plenty of opportunities to practice. Taking an officer position, or even just your initiation places you in the position where you have no choice but to speak in front of a room full of people if you want things to run smoothly. While it can be absolutely terrifying at first, it does get better with time, not only throughout your speaking part, but also every time that you say it. Many people who became Masons, or involved in Masonic organizations were not excellent public speakers, but Masonry allowed them to become such. If you feel like you might need additional help, speak with your mentor or WM, you may also want to look into Toastmasters, which exists solely for this purpose.
Tips for Public Speaking
There are a ton of resources for how to be a better public speaker out there. However, I feel that the aforementioned Toastmasters has the most concise list.
Know your material This can go a couple of ways in the Masonic community. If you are in an officer position, you need to be sure to have your part memorized to the best of your ability so that the meeting may run as smooth as possible. More on memorization in a bit. If you are presenting a paper or something similar, be sure that the subject is something that you are really interested in, and if possible, know a lot about. Try to write what you are going to say similar to the way that you speak, this will make it easier to remember what you need to say.
Practice, practice, practice! Give your speech or part to your spouse, your kids, your dog, some random guy on the street. Practice with any equipment that you may need to use, such as Powerpoint. Remember to pause and breath. Practice with a timer if you are presenting a paper or topic and have been asked to stay within a certain time frame,
Know the audience This is one of the places where Masonry and its other organizations really have an advantage. If you are presenting to your Lodge, of if you are doing an officer part, you will already know most everyone in the room. I spoke at a state conference, and knew, or at least recognized about half of the room. This makes a big difference!
Know the room Yet another situation where you have an advantage as a Mason. Save for the exact chair layout, almost all Lodge rooms will be set up about the same in your country, and even if not, they will all be exactly the same within your jurisdiction.
Relax. Probably the hardest one to do. It helps if you address the audience, pause, smile, and count to three. Take your nervous energy and try to transform it into enthusiasm, even if you have to fake it.
Visualize yourself giving your speech. especially in a calm, loud, confident voice. Visualize the audience clapping after you are done practicing your speech, it sounds silly, but may help boost your confidence.
Realize that people want you to succeed. This is another place where Masonry really shines as far as public speaking is concerned. If you are giving a presentation, chances are that the topic interests someone besides you. If you are doing a ritual speaking part, your success will help the flow of the entire ritual ceremony.
Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problem. Chances are the audience never noticed it, even if you felt that it was a huge mistake.
Concentrate on the message – not the medium. What you are saying is far more important than how you say it. If you focus your attention away from your nervousness and concentrate on your audience and the message you are conveying to them you will feel more relaxed, and more confident.
Gain experience. Yet another area Masonic organizations excel. Often, people will only have a few opportunities to publicly speak, therefore they are not able to gain the adequate experience needed. Within Masonry however, you are presented with almost constant opportunities to speak, and therefore a lot of practice. Like anything else, the more you speak in front of a group of people, or in ritual, the better you will be at doing it. You may find that it helps to ask a friend who may be in the audience, or in your Lodge meeting, to pay special attention when you speak, and offer you areas you may want to improve on in the future.
Tips for Memorization
Very often, if you are involved in a Masonic organization, you will be required to memorize something at some point. Like public speaking, many different people have many different tips on exactly how to do this. You can find a detailed ideographic that covers one method here. A brother describes a different method involving two people:
It requires a trainer and a trainee:
- Pick a passage, a small bite, that you want to learn. Two short paragraphs or one long one is ideal for a single session.
- Trainee reads entire passage out loud 2-3 times, at the proper delivery pace and hands book to trainer.
- Trainer repeats (first) phrase (5-6 words max) twice.
- Trainer and trainee say phrase together at least twice.
- Trainee says phrase alone 4-5 times.
- Go back to step 2 with a second phrase.
- After each new phrase has been through steps 2-6, the trainee repeats the entire text that they have done in that particular session. They should be able to get through it cleanly, WITHOUT PROMPTS, 2-3 times before moving on.
- Once the entire part is learned, repeat it a few times.
During the next session, have the trainee run through the last 2-3 bits that you have worked on together. It helps if you train on consecutive days, for no more than 2-3 hours (which is more than enough time to do two short paragraphs usually).
Generally the method that seems to work overall is to break it up into chunks, memorize those chunks, and then put it together. Also, always be sure to give yourself much more time than you think you might need in order to memorize a piece.
I hoped this helped some of you out there, I know I wish I had read up more before speaking! As always, have a great week!