Speechless

October 23, 1985, is a day that will live in infamy. No stock market crashed. No war raged. It was just the first and last time I was required to give a public presentation.

The day before this unforgettable speech, my supervisor informed three co-workers and me that we each had to make a presentation to a few former Firestone employees about how they should invest the lump sum money they would receive because of the plant closing. We would be representing a credit union, while all the other presenters would be from investment firms. My co-workers and I did not accept this news with much grace. However, we had no choice. We could not afford to be unemployed. Secretly, I looked upon the assignment as a learning experience because I was taking night classes in pre-law for a career as a trial lawyer. I was the lucky person from our office assigned to the first presentation. My supervisor handed me the speech she had written.

"Here's a speech I've prepared for you to read," she said as she handed me a paper.

Since I had written plenty of presentations of my own for class, I thought I would write my own speech.

"Would you mind if I wrote my own?" I asked her, but I could tell she took my request as a criticism.

"Do whatever you want to do," she replied coldly. "This copy was just a suggestion."

I decided that since I would be up against professionals in investments, who gave public presentations all the time, I would write a proposal that at least sounded like I knew what I was talking about. After all, I had learned the art of bull from watching Perry Mason on television. I spent half the night writing and rewriting until I came up with my idea of a pretty darn good proposal. Just as I had used my husband as a jury for my class presentations, I practiced my proposal on him.

At one time I feared public speaking, but now that terror all seemed in the distant past. I went to bed with visions of applause and a standing ovation for a powerful presentation in my head. After all, convincing 20 or 30 workers to invest the money they had saved so wisely could not be that hard. In my dreams I had convinced many mock juries of my client's innocence; my presentation should be easy. I couldn't wait for these potential investors to call my boss and declare my speech the sole purpose for investing all their money with our company. I went to sleep with a smile on my face and woke up raring to go. I dressed in my best red suit and black pumps and thought of the story I would have to tell my class.

Since I had until 10:00 A.M. to get to the meeting center, I first went by my office to show my co-workers what I had written. They all seemed to like it. They even made copies of my version to use over my boss's version. Of course, their remarks only made my head swell just a tad more.

As the appointed time approached, I went to the rest room to check my hair and makeup. My lips were painted red, my suit looked neatly pressed, and my briefcase added just the right touch. I felt ready. I took my notes and headed to the gym where the meeting was to take place. As I pulled into the parking lot, I wondered how many meetings were being held inside since so many cars were outside. I got out, walked in the door, and nearly passed out. The gym was completely full from front to back. Looking at the agenda, I found that I was to be the fifth of five presenters. This placement would at least give me time to calm my nerves; and besides, since I was last, I would definitely be the one they remembered. Little did I realize how true this premonition would be.

As I sat waiting my turn, I carefully scrutinized the four professionals before me. All in suits, they were quite composed and efficient. They had visual aids, which I did not have time to prepare. They definitely got the attention of the audience when they discussed how they could double the investor's money with some risk investments. They slipped quickly over the word "risk" and then I knew I had the winning ticket because my speech covered the risk factor. Our company might not have as high a dividend, but the investors faced no risk.

Sitting on the stage in my straight metal chair with that crafty smile on my face, I almost did not hear my name called. I tried to keep from appearing too cocky as I walked to the microphone. I had no lectern to hide behind, which was fine with me. I walked to the front and turned to face the audience. My mind went completely blank.

I finally knew what speakers meant by stage fright. Suddenly, I wished I had not written quite so much, although in reality my speech was only fifteen minutes. I had not thought I needed any more time than a few minutes to sway this jury.

Nevertheless, I had to complete my speech, so I took a deep breath and started talking. I highlighted how the other investors could make everyone more money, but reminded the hourly employees that taxes would be removed from their initial investment first.

"By investing with the credit union I represent," I explained, "you can live on the interest of the investment, if you were laid off. Your initial investment will be secure."

I offered a tax shelter where the other investors offered a way to increase an investment after taxes.

"Look at those smiles!" I thought to myself when I finished.

Even with the initial fright, I had outdone the others.

However, when I looked at the clock, I thought it had stopped. My fifteen minute speech had taken only three minutes.

At the end, the jury rose to proclaim the verdict. I had won! Just like a judge in his black robe descending from the bench, a man in the front row headed straight for me. I could feel my pride swelling as he approached with that smile on his face.

"Young lady," he mused, "I just wanted to let you know that I have never seen anyone's knees shake so fast."

Instead of a female Perry Mason I had come across as Bugs Bunny on trial.

My ego crushed, I slumped as small as I could and left as fast as my shaking knees would carry me. On the way to my car, I never looked back. When I got back to work, I walked into my supervisor's office to let her know I preferred unemployment over making another presentation. That very day I changed my major from pre-law to primary education. I have never regretted that decision.

I may not have turned into the Perry Mason I thought I could be, but my first graders think I'm one heck of a Mary Poppins.

Lynn Reis