Imagine them in their underwear

Published 10:06 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013

May 29, 2013

The political forum held Thursday night for Town of Prentiss candidates for mayor and aldermen at the Courthouse was intensely interesting. Being a student of the art of public speaking, I was captivated by the personalities and how they presented themselves and the issues.

Besides the fear of heights, flying and spiders, the fear of speaking in public ranks near the top of the list of people’s biggest fears. One of my speech teachers, (the first one and the best one, Ms. Ilene Allen) used to say one way to get over paralyzing fear when facing a group of people is to look out at your audience and imagine them in their underwear. The point being, the audience will seem less intimidating if you can imagine them being as vulnerable as you are. (This trick never worked for me as I was too busy concentrating on my entire face shaking.)

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Randy Stamps drew the short straw of the evening and spoke first. It’s always hard to go first. There’s no one with whom to compare yourself. The audience has not yet been tested. There could be rotten tomatoes out there. Thankfully, he only got applause, no tomatoes.

On the other hand, maybe it wasn’t such a short straw…

Charley Dumas had to speak last. Worse, he had to sit there and listen to every single person go before him and say things he obviously would love to have commented on, disagreed with, corrected, etc. but was forced to stick to the script and answer the prescribed questions.

Some of the candidates read from prepared scripts, some spoke openly with lots of eye contact like Michael Caldwell. Some like Mary Curtis were not corralled by the podium and used gestures to drive home points.

Keith Bridges with his announcer-trained voice had no problem projecting, and neither did Sylvia Ward whose voice reached the back of the room like a good public speaker. “I don’t think anybody is going to have trouble hearing me,” she said.

There are many external factors that can affect how a speech will go. Room lighting and temperature, a distracting photographer flashing photos at inopportune moments . . ahem…

Not everyone was happy with how the evening was organized, which can drastically affect a presentation. Some candidates commented they were not given enough time to prepare, having received the list of questions on Monday evening.

On the other hand, some members of the audience thought the candidates should not have been presented with the questions beforehand at all and been forced instead to answer off the cuff, in the moment, in real-time.

If a political forum is organized again in the future, it would be good to make sure all candidates’ schedules are clear so that all could participate. It would have been good to hear from Willie Davis and Todd Broome in person.

And let’s get a microphone next time, the acoustics in that room being atrocious. The point is to be able to hear the message spoken.

In the end, despite the rough edges and first-time jitters, the evening was a good exercise in democracy. And it was good to hear comments from the proverbial horse’s mouth.

The Twentieth Century Club is to be commended for producing an event that promoted communication with an attempt at greater understanding of the issues that face the voters in the Town of Prentiss.