Friday, January 14, 2011

How Does the King Speak

Before I blob about what I intend to blob about, it occurs to me that Sarah Palin is a dope and we are simply spending too much time comparing her to the President – and other credible public personalities.

If you haven’t seen ”The Kings Speech”, march right down to your local movie theater. It is a remarkable film. And in the realm of “It’s all about me” –which of course, it always is, the story revolves around a soon to be/then King and the speech teacher who taught him how to overcome his stammer. Sounds dry, right? Well, Geoffrey Rush and that adorable Colin Firth are far from dry. Their performances are brilliant, moving, hilarious. So what makes this about me, you ask, because I haven’t given you a clue. Good question, glad you asked.

With much gratitude to my Voice and Articulation Professors at Emerson College – and the number of speech improvement classes we had to take in order to graduate—regardless of major, I was able pay a substantial part of my tuition by tutoring young women who wanted to get rid of their Massachusetts accents and move from secretarial work to management careers. It was fairly lucrative and, although I was never a speech therapist, I was actually capable of helping people with simple voice and articulation problems. There were also a couple of semesters at a Catholic Middle School, where I was hired to teach public speaking in an auditorium size classroom. As you may know, having gone to 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, Middle School kids are incapable of sitting quietly. That was OK by me, because it was a public speaking class. But the Nuns wanted silence and were likely to slap knuckles with a ruler if they heard a sound. Needless to say, my career in Catholic Schools, as well as Middle Schools, was short lived.

If you have seen the film, you know how painful it is to watch someone struggle with a speech problem. And whether the problem is a stutter, or an irritating slushy ‘s’, the person who has the problem, (unless they are in total denial or they use the problem as a tool for attention), is uncomfortable every time they open their mouths.

Throughout my various careers (in politics, academia, entertainment, the corporate and non profit sector-- whew that's tiring), being able to earn some money by teaching people how to improve their speech, has been live saving. But it has also been great fun. My favorite client was Tony Snow, the editor of the “Washington Times”, the conservative Republican newspaper in DC. Tony, who is now a bright star in heaven, didn’t like the sound of his voice and he wanted to transition from pencil to electronic media. A friend of a friend suggested he contact me. Which, despite my politics, he did. Tony had no major problems, just a tight throat and his pitch was a bit high. We could have worked for a couple of weeks and he would have been fine. But we had so many laughs, we worked for six months –maybe more.

Soon after, Tony made the career transition. Every time I heard him on TV or the radio, I felt proud to have been his coach. His work with me was confidential and until this blob, no one knew that he was working on his voice. You may remember that Tony was the Bush 2 Press Secretary (talk painful). But he was also a speechwriter for Bush 1. It was during this time that he called and asked me if I would help the President with his speech problems. I was not prepared to help the Republican President deliver a message. And despite Tony’s convincing argument about the Presidency not being political – I just couldn’t. However, I loved Tony and said if he sent me tapes of the President’s speeches, I would help him to write the speeches in a way that would make it easier for the President to speak. In the case of President Bush one, he had breath control problems, so Tony just needed to write shorter sentences. Every once in a while Tony would call me for a speech “brush up”, and we remained good friends until he died.

When we were watching “The King’s Speech”, it brought back wonderful memories, of working with all those people to be more confident, about themselves and what they wanted to say. And regardless of who they were or where they were professionally, it always made me feel terrific knowing I had been able to help them succeed, even if it was just a little. We’re just sayin. Iris

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