Jul 21, 2008

Toastmaster's speech? In my blog post?

It's more likely than you think.

I am a member of Toastmasters, a most excellent organization that encourages and fosters public speaking and leadership skills in a friendly, supportive environment. From time to time, I'm called upon to give a speech. Tomorrow's meeting is one of those times.

Of course, like the responsible adult that I am, I've put writing the speech until the last minute I've had a full schedule and wasn't able to write my speech yet. So I'm multitasking and writing both this post and my speech at the exact same time!

Look at that, I've just doubled my productivity!

The meeting's overall theme (selected by the meeting's Toastmaster), is about music. Keeping with that theme, I'm doing the Vocal Variety project in the manual I'm working, which asks that I emphasize and vary my voice and tone throughout my speech. Also keeping with the theme, the title of my speech is "The Sound of Silence", which I've included after the break. Enjoy!

P.S. Grammar Nazis, I know this isn't exactly how full paragraphs are formed. It's a speech, not an essay.

Today's theme is around music, but I decided to take things in a different route for my speech. I'm going to reintroduce you to Silence: Silence, meet Audience. Audience, Silence.

How many of you heard Silence? I suppose that's a loaded question that could be answered from scientific, philosophic or zen point of views. But one thing I think anyone can agree on is that we don't get much of it these days anymore. Silence is truly under-appreciated in our society.

We as a culture have a problem with silence, almost as if we have an irrational fear of it. Is it because we fear the unknown? Certainly, that would explain why we force small talk in our day-to-day interactions. After all, we can't get a read on what other people think unless we hear them speak, right?

Or maybe we fear being alone. Maybe silence reminds us that all we ever really have is ourselves. That's a bit depressing, actually, but perhaps there's some truth. Have you ever gotten lost? Like, really really, lost? I know I have, plenty of times. Did you ever call someone up on the phone, knowing full well that they didn't know where you were either? I sure did and it was incredibly reassuring. It wasn't helping the situation in the least, but just hearing someone else's voice was calming.

Whatever the root cause, we fear it. So how do we as a culture combat this fear of silence? Noise. Lots and lots of noise. It's the reason we all listen to background music when we're working or exercising. It's the reason cars are equipped with radios. It's the reason we sing in the shower when we think we're alone. We're dependant on noise.

Left unchecked for many many years, this noise has permeated to all aspects of our lives. Spam in your email box. Television programs designed to hold your attention. Advertisements upon advertisements upon advertisements. People everywhere shouting and vying for your attention just to be heard over all the noise.

But silence isn't all that bad, really. Sure, I wouldn't recommend taking a religious vow of silence or anything but when used appropriately, it can be a powerful tool.

First, and perhaps more obviously, silence improves our ability to sleep. It's almost ridiculous to point to this as an example, but how many of you can go to sleep with a lot of noise? Not many?

Silence gives us the opportunity to reflect and take an introspective look at ourselves. This "alone time" allows us to re-evaluate our goals and tasks to ensure that we're doing what it is we've set out to do.

A bit ironic, in our "NOISE NOISE NOISE" world we live in silence denotes importance. We observe moments of silence as reminders of important events - tragedies, sacrifices, etc. In the same vain, but to a lesser degree, silence is a great way to emphasize points when giving a speech.

Lastly, and I may only be speaking for myself on this one, a really good litmus test for how well I know someone is not how well we converse, but how comfortable we are being silent together. That, I feel, requires deep trust and understanding between people to not give into the natural urge of breaking the silence.

In conclusion, silence isn't something to be feared. It affords us better sleep, it allows us to reconnect with ourselves, and it can be used to confer importance. These are but a few of the many benefits silence can give you.

I recommend people take steps to try and get more silence in their daily lives. It's as easy as turning off the television, radio, computer or whatever source of noise you have for 15 minutes.

Having said that, make some noise as I turn the meeting back over to our Toastmaster, Thulani.

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