The Last Windrow: Giving a speech leaves some speechless

The towering, red-headed high school senior had a reputation for being a fearless basketball player. He liked to box and was good at it. He showed no fear when it came to standing his ground.

The towering, red-headed high school senior had a reputation for being a fearless basketball player. He liked to box and was good at it. He showed no fear when it came to standing his ground.

He was and I still consider him a friend of mine.

But, there was one thing that brought him to his knees and made him sweat. That little thing was giving a speech to a group of fellow students.

One of the furthest things in my mind while I was growing up and working on our farm was that someday I might be required to give a speech.

I just never thought of it as ever being a part of my adult character. That was until I was forced to take speech class from Mrs. Lindgren. There was no way out if you wanted to graduate.


It was one of the classes that probably caused more dropouts in high school than any other. Students would do almost anything to avoid this class, but to no avail. We were forced to run the gauntlet of speech-giving.

I think many people experience the same fear of standing up in front of the crowd and talking about something. I don't blame them. It is an excruciating experience for those of us who would prefer to remain in the back of the room and remain unnoticed.

It is much easier to listen to a speech than to give one for sure. Giving a speech requires a certain amount of preparation and nerve.

I remember striding up to that podium on Mrs. Lindgren's desk with sweaty palms and a lump in my throat. It was my first speech in front of people, my classmates. Mrs. Lindgren sat in the back of the classroom with her clipboard ready to wreak havoc on my utterances.

She was mostly an unsmiling teacher, but I saw a slight smirk on her face as I turned to face the Gatling gun. She must have known something I didn't, because seeing that slight smile gave me some kind of confidence I didn't know I had.

My speech revolved around a book I had read. I had prepared my notes, and I'd practiced in front of a mirror with my hand gestures. I thought my reflection in the mirror looked rather silly, and I worked to look serious and yet entertaining.

My speech book said it was a good thing to toss in a joke or two along the way, and I came up with a couple of stupid jokes that I practiced by telling them to my younger sister. She didn't laugh. I was hoping the class would be more receptive to my humor.

I did my five-minute speech, and over that span of time I totally forgot to follow any notes I had scribbled on the paper in front of me. I went off in directions that I hadn't even thought of. I had the class in stitches, and I hadn't even cracked one of the jokes I'd practiced at home.


Even Mrs. Lindgren was chuckling at the back of the room.

When she blew the whistle, I was just getting wound up. It was hard for me to find a closing, but as they say, I left them laughing. So much for stage fright.

Then it was my big, red-headed classmate's turn. He struggled to get out of his desk and slumped his way to the front of the class. I thought there would be nothing that would frighten this guy. I had seen him barrel into opposing basketball players, spar with another kid in the alley behind the school, lay rubber in front of the town cop without a thought. He was fearless.

But, when he stepped to the podium, he went speechless. Not a word would come out. Mrs. Lindgren finally excused him out of mercy and told him to practice more, and she postponed his speech until the next week. He did get the job done, but he was scarred for life I'm sure.

Since those days I've given a number of speeches, and I can't say that I'm never nervous before giving a speech. The insecurity of not knowing how you're going to be received by your audience is a nerve-tingling challenge every time.

But, I've yet to be hit with a rotten tomato, and usually someone will come up and say they enjoyed some part of my presentation.

But, it really was much easier to make a speech to that corner post at the end of the field when no one else was listening. I imagined the post giving me a rousing round of applause.

See you next time. Okay?

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