Second chances.

Some people have nightmares about missed math finals or finding oneself naked on a stage.

Nope, not me.

The thing that keeps me up at night is a speech from half a decade ago. I was given two minutes to present on a topic. I was sweating. My hands were shaking. No PowerPoint, ill-prepared, and in the eyes of not my peers but those who I wanted to join one day: I was in front of a group of Rotarians to talk about the idea of post-partisanship.

I committed the worst sins imaginable by a speaker. Aside from little preparation, I jumped from idea to idea, not clearly speaking and, of course, mumbling. I didn't stand straight, and I didn't look into the eyes of the audience. I didn't dress well. Nor did I take the time to really parse my thoughts to fit the time I was given: it was a two minute slot in the wake of a larger presentation by a prominent local politician. Of course, I went five minutes over time, cutting into the local Member of Legislative Assembly's presentation.

Even worse, I was pulled into tangents by my own thoughts and didn't direct the path of my own speech to what I truly wanted to say. The few short minutes to address the assembled notables was a gift. I was placed there in front of that audience by a dear friend; and it was something that I squandered terribly. Rotarians, by virtue of their organization, are educated, business-savvy, and trend intelligent. If there is ever an audience someone wants to share an idea with it's a Rotary club. No ifs, ands, or buts, you can present complex ideas to this group of people. And they want to listen.

When the first group of Rotarians came into existence it was a civic organization focused on building public infrastructure accessible to the public and for the public's benefit. They sought to build civic-mindedness and a sense of community. So not only is this group the type to comprehend the ideas our society needs to speak on... they want to hear it. Their purpose and mission are clear: it's a service organization and service organizations seek to, you guessed it, serve.

What's most crushing to this writer is that it will be another ten years before I'm in front of an audience like that. Now I could do it. At a drop of a hat I could stand in front of that audience again. But chances like this are only once in a couple of years and limited to the invitation. I am the creature of my own self-destruction and, while I am thankful to learn this lesson early, it's a bitter pill to swallow. Here are some of the lessons that I learned from the experience.

(1) Know thy time limit.

And stick within it.

I had two minutes. The introduction should have been left to a few seconds, a thank you for inviting me, and then quickly into the topic at hand. When time constraints exist the least important elements have to be removed from a presentation and the remaining time directed at the key salient points needed to be showcased.

This also ties into preparation. Preparation is key to success in everything. Practice and spending that critical time before a speech is of huge importance, and should not be skipped over.

(2) Know thy place.

There are three core arguments that you can make in speeches. One is based on emotion. Another is logic and reason.

The third one is ethos. This comes from an understanding of a person's standing and position in society, in addition to a sense of character of a person. Returning to the topic I was trying to speak on -- post-partisanship -- it's quite likely I was the worst person to speak on such a topic. I'm a two-time national award winning political blogger with a clear partisan bias. I had a party name in my blog's URL.

A person's history and their very existence forms a column in their arguments. When I stood in front of that room for those few short minutes I wasn't the one who should be speaking on post-partisanship. It was neither my place or my position to speak on such things. I may know more than most, but that still doesn't make up for the lack of standing I have on the subject.

(3) Know thy tone.

By introducing speakers at the Canadian Club I learned something really amazing. You can shift the entire speech of the person following you by how you present your speech.

Intonation, perspective, and the way one presents can drive the dialogue that exists between speaker and audience. You can hurt the speaker following you by failing to do well -- like in the example at the beginning of this blog post -- or bring their speech to the next level.

In a single instance it's power over an audience but in another a massive responsibility.

There is a certain level of irony in this world and, surprise, surprise, I'm now working for that very same MLA that I ran into the time of. Just recently I was able to apply these lessons I've learned at his yearly Christmas open house. His father, who regularly sang at his events as an Elvis impersonator, was running behind schedule. Finding a need to eat up time, having run past the ten minutes the MLA normally left for himself to give a speech, and without additional entertainment to push out to the audience, he pointed to his executive assistant. Me.

"Now here's a speech by my EA, Vincent St. Pierre. By the way, you can follow him on twitter at @VSP..." I wasn't ready for this. I wasn't prepared. I was quietly working at the registration table when I heard the introduction over the speaker system. But I knew I could do this.

I went to the microphone, adjusted my suit jacket like it was my battle armour, thanked my boss for allowing me the honour of working for him for this past year, and dove right in. This introduction took a spare forty-five seconds.

I said to the hundred or so Calgary-Buffalo residents that I had three big ideas to share with them. Idea number one was the massive inequality between the rich and the poor. I pulled in statistics from the MLA's recent letter to the Kerby Centre -- that Alberta's wealth inequality was now as bad as the roaring 1920s in the United States, just before their massive implosion of 1929. The next was the need to invest in early childhood care and government subsidized daycare -- and I spoke to them about the struggles of my single mother with her five children. Three of my siblings are disabled, I said, and the struggle for my mother was dire. I knew this audience. I served them each and every day in the MLA's office. These were not the wealthiest Calgarians. They were from East Village, seniors homes, and people who cared passionately about the social services that kept their neighbours out of poverty.

These were the retired nurses who have seen their province go awry, the passionate politicos who championed left-leaning change, and many who cared deeply about this issue of social justice.


Soon I saw the signal from my boss to cut the speech. Elvis, as it were, was in the building, and I entered into a thirty second conclusion. I was clear. It was simple. I sign-posted. And upon finishing up my speech I heard a roar of applause. Some of the audience members approached me afterwards and demanded to know when I was going to run for office. 

I've learned my lesson. And I continue to work hard to become a better speaker and communicator every single day.