“You have all the time you need. All the time in the world.”
– Allan Quatermain, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
That quote is a line from the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Allan (Sean Connery) is reminding Tom Sawyer (Shane West) about shooting. Never mind the target is the villain running for his life. Never mind he is already miles away. In that moment (pictured above), Tom Sawyer aims, takes a moment, fires, and hits his mark. He is finally an expert marksman.
I feel a bit old (the movie came out in 2003) but remembering that scene reminds me of a piece of advice I want to share (especially) with newer speakers. It is advice I have only recently begun putting into practice.
The advice is this. After you shake hands with the Toastmaster (or emcee) and position yourself in front of the audience, take a breath and take a moment. You have all the time in the world. I understand from a practical perspective that is not true. Chances are you are not the only speaker and only a certain length of time has been allotted for your speech. Regardless, just take a second or two to pause and feel like you have all the time in the world. Use that to mentally prepare yourself and begin.
During my childhood I clearly remember one piano lesson where my teacher was ready to yank out her own hair because I was so “unsure” of my starting note I restarted that single note no fewer than five times. If I wasn’t ready, I shouldn’t have started. She told me (in many frustration-filled words) that I could not press down on that first key unless I was absolutely sure of that first note, and all the other notes that would follow. Imagine if I had done that kind of a start during a recital, or during my piano exams. Not only would it have been extremely cringe-worthy, but whatever emotion and power behind that song would never be realized.
Maybe you are eager to start speaking because you just want to get it over with and sit back down! Perhaps you have rehearsed it so much you want to spit it out before you forget the words. Both reasons are perfectly understandable (I’ve used them myself many, many times) but both reasons could cause you to trip and stumble out of the gate (or play the same note five times). If you want to grab a hold of the audience and keep them engaged for the remainder of your awesome speech, you must do so within the first line. That line could be a surprise that jars them AWAKE. Or it could be a soft mysterious line that piques their curiosity. Whatever it is, you must be ready.
The next time you stand in front of the audience about to give a speech, remember you don’t have to start at that exact second. Take a deep breath and take that second or two to mentally prepare yourself. Imagine the first line of your speech, and how you want to say it. When you are ready, go.
Take your time. You have all the time in the world.