FOR the rookie speech giver, the trick is often staying sober enough to remember things like your name, your PIN number and, oh yes, your speech.
My friend and I recently had the privilege and I have to say it was sobering. I mean, panic inducing. I mean humbling.
The birthday boy's partner organised a surprise party. And we thought that was great. She wanted us there because we were old mates. And we thought that was great. Then she asked if we'd mind saying a few words. And I wasn't so sure that was so great. In fact, it felt like I'd swallowed a shot put.
That's because unaccustomed as I am to speaking in public, I had a dream. And it wasn't necessarily to stand up in front of people and be pissy, I mean pithy.
It was usually to party on with everyone and listen to someone else deliver coherent, entertaining anecdotes about the birthday boy. This would be one small step for man, one giant leap into 'holy crap'.
But, really, how hard could it be?
Being a firm believer in "procrastination before preparation" I left it to the last minute to find out, giving me six weeks of stress-free living and 24 hours of worry.
Come 1am the morning of the big day, I found myself in a dark place. After an hour or so of that, I turned on the computer. (Boing). As you can see, in my early search for fluent, I got effluent.
Slightly rattled, I resolved to break the task down to achievable goals. Keep it short and hopefully, at-best, half memorable (let's not over-reach). The big KPI would be that it was memorable not because it was rubbish, but short.
Having said that, "Happy birthday, the end" wasn't gonna cut it.
There'd have to be humour. Probably at my expense. Ideally they'd be laughing with me, but I'd take "at me" over no laughter at all, which is what I kept coming up with.
It was important I didn't go all dark and existential, like I was feeling.
I couldn't say, "I've been asked to say a few words about our friend, but can we know anyone? We're all going to die, you know." If I took that line, I'd be the one dying, on stage.
The only ice-breaker I could think of went along the lines of, "Anybody self-harmed lately? You probably will after listening to this."
I eventually typed up a 10 page blurt (so much for keeping it 'short') which I planned to distil for gold on the five-hour drive to the party. That plan collapsed when we left the laptop at home.
Memorising the 10 pages was out of the question because: 1) I have a terrible memory; and 2) "procrastination before preparation" usually leads to lubrication.
Ah yes, the tricky question of Dutch courage. The key, as always, would be getting the balance right between heartstarter and physical collapse.
And so the afternoon came and it was fantastic. The surprise was sprung perfectly, and then we got down to the business of getting to know everyone.
My mate had travelled far and wide through his varied and successful life endearing himself to many, who had made the effort to get there for the day.
Talking to them I realised quickly that they were all intelligent, educated, lovely people highly credentialed in the "I've heard some good speeches in my time" department. Daunted? Only in so much as I wanted to suck my thumb.
Not a good look. So instead I kept the Dutch courage coming and attempted to visualise success with my rambling 10-page speech (cue images of the Hindenberg, 9/11 and the Challenger space shuttle.)
Before I knew it dinner was served and we were on. My mate went first and I have to say, he smashed it. Off the cuff, personal, from the heart, inspired. Bastard.
Then it was my turn. The one good thing about standing up in front of a room full of people is that it's sobering.
The written speech went out the window, because the hands were shaking and I wasn't capable of reading.
I opened the batting with a reference to cricket, which was perfect because my mate knows nothing about the game.
I suggested every great innings needs grit, determination and some luck, and that without shadow of a doubt, the biggest bit of luck my mate had was meeting his wife.
With that, everyone cheered.
That's because a) it's true, and b) she'd laid on the party and was obviously the best person on the planet at that moment.
Talk about a winner. The crowd went wild. "Wrap it up" was the immediate instruction from speech HQ in the brain. "Get off now!!" But I was on a roll.
I saluted his ability to despatch big things to the boundary, like study and getting a job and having a family, but suggested it was the cheeky singles sneaked along the way that we all cherished the most.
Another big cheer went up before a few nervous "whoas" fearing what went on tour was about to come off.
Without betraying too much I finished with something about him hitting us all for six, happy birthday mate and it was all over.
It hadn't been that hard, and that's probably because I'd fluked the dutch courage equation.
Any preparation proved better than none although I still forgot a few things, but in conclusion, it's what you don't say that says the most about a speech.