Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Not so very long ago, I was the victim of a Surprise Public Speaking Seminar at work. Of course, I should expect these things, seeing as how I am a technical writer and marketing guy who sits in front of a cathode ray tube all day. It just makes sense that they should want to keep me on my toes by including me in something that's totally unrelated to my job function.

"Gee, Kaf," the President of the company will say. "I appreciate that you're trying to meet your deadline on this new brochure, but I think it's real important that you take a couple of days to learn how cheese is processed." or perhaps "You never know when a crash-course in emergency thyroid surgery is going to come in handy."

So anyway, I was roped into this public speaking thing which was basically me and all the company salesmen and executives, and I got to have a marginally good time for the next couple of days learning how to gesture expansively. They really wanted us to gesture in a big way. One guy gestured so hard he dislocated his shoulder and had to be airlifted to a local hospital. You probably read about it in the news.

I was sure gesturing a lot. Wild, arching gestures of the type seldom seen outside of amateur theatrical productions of Annie. The result of this is that now any time I need to have a conversation, I have to first measure the maximum clearance of the ceiling, just to be sure. Also, people talking to me must maintain a distance of three (3) feet, so as not to be injured if I get all crazy and start some hot gesticulation.

Also, the well-paid public speaker person (who was eerily reminiscent of Fred Gwynne in Pet Sematary (and later told me some fun stuff about taking lots of acid in the sixties and getting into Transcendental Meditation), but that's neither here nor there) introduced us to a fun mnemonic device to rid yourself of "filler words". Filler words are "uh" or "um" or "so", or "or", come to think of it. But I kid "or". "Or" is a perfectly fine word. One that begins to lose its meaning if you look at it enough on the screen, becoming instead a strange and cryptic symbol. Try it with me and see. No? Maybe that's just me.

The fun mnemonic device is that you get your spouse (or a live-in companion of some sort. I'm not here to judge.) to snap their fingers every time you use one of the filler words. Sounds pleasant, doesn't it?

"So, how was your day"

"Uh --"


"Oh, ha ha, that's right. I keep on uh --"


"Maybe we could just um --"


"I hate myself and want to um --"


Until, inexorably, someone ends up disemboweled and buried at the bottom of the garden. Don't say I didn't warn you.

But the main thing about the public speaking seminar that worried me, once I got used to the frankly ridiculous fact that I was there, was the being filmed part. The concept of being filmed doesn't particularly bother me. I gave my little speeches with relative aplomb, and got polite applause and all that, but I had a nagging fear every time the camera was on. You see, I've seen too many movies like Minority Report and Strange Days and The Sixth Sense, where the main character spends quality time with their drug of choice, gazing at old film of their wife/girlfriend/kid/gerbil/houseplant/small pile of gravel and weeping openly at cruel fate which snatched them away.

Usually there is bad music, too.

This is what happens when you let yourself be filmed by an amateur videographer. You end up being all out of focus and zoomed-in-on for no reason, just waiting for someone to make a moving montage out of you, so your grieving loved one can drink themselves into a stupor watching you babble away like an idiot on the screen. Maybe they'd even uh--



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