April is the month when my personal and professional calendars merge – there’s simply no separating out the tedium of tax prep from the enormity of the preparation for Passover to the schedule gymnastics required for my businesses and teaching and other matters. It all matters. And this year brought another set of challenges to my resource-management skills: I am a first-time parent of the bride! Yes, my daughter heads down the aisle this Mother’s Day and I shall proudly host a reception for our 125 guests. That’s three weeks, four days and four hours away at the time of this writing. The bride and groom have asked me to toast them so the pressure is on for this veteran professional speaker. These are my children and this is a tremendous milestone in their lives. I have no more important audience. But I feel delightfully calm, even peaceful.
Ever organized, at the top of my “to do list” this week was my “parent-of-the-bride” toast. Second? Prepare for my college students a three-hour lecture introducing them to Ceremonial Speaking. Yes, what a coincidence! We’re entering the glorious unit in my Public Speaking curriculum in which I remind students that while other mammals certainly mark time with ceremonies across the life cycle, we humans are the only ones who also “say a few words.” Third? Prepare for Passover including the setting of the Seder table. And there is was, the nexus of my life this season, right there, symbolized by the Haggadah – the script for the telling of the story of our exodus from slavery in ancient Egypt. The script for the telling of the story as we Jews are commanded to do. Passover, you see, insists on the spoken word.
Haggadah literally means “telling.” And “Pesach” is understood to be “passing over” in English, as in being spared from harm. To my ears, though, “pesach” with a small “p,” or “pey sach,” in transliterated Hebrew means “the mouth speaks.” It is significant to me that we Jews are commanded to use our distinctly human gift of speech to tell the story of the Exodus. And we are to do so via the youngest child present who prompts the telling of the story with four questions. Passover insists on the spoken word – the medium which communicates to all human beings, especially those who are too young or otherwise unable to read.
My daughter the bride is the youngest in our family so she for the last twenty-plus years has asked the four questions. How did she like other English-speaking youngest children learn the four questions in Hebrew? By hearing them over and over and chanting them aloud over and over again. At age two she could not read the Haggadah. Yet she produced the sounds that we hear as the Four Questions. This is precisely how I train my speakers to create their orations – aloud and in live voice. Not by writing, but rather via the repetition of their own spoken words in their own individual trope. I crafted my Parent-of-the-Bride Toast without putting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard. I did it aloud and in spoken English, repeating my words while cleaning for Passover, taking my daily jogs and even driving to my accountant to file my taxes. It made the crafting of my lecture on Ceremonial Speaking deeply heartfelt and personal.
In some segments of our society the spoken word is in its renaissance. This is clear from the increased listenership of The Moth to the explosion in popularity of podcasts and the sustained growth of Toastmasters International. However, in other segments of our society, the spoken word is on life-support. The latter troubles me. It gives me pause because I know that what we can communicate orally is what gives each of us keys – as Passover reminds us – to the narratives of our lives. And so we warriors of the spoken word battle on towards the peace that comes from being able to use our voices publicly and confidently in the arenas that define us.
I see now that the enumeration of my “to-do list” was artificial. Preparation for one commitment has been preparation for all. This season has braided together my life’s blessings – my family, my faith and my work. And so I shall say a few words in each space – at the Seder table, in college lectures and at my daughter’s wedding – with a most special appreciation for the gift of the spoken word and the deliverance it advances.
Lisa Bernard is “a little bit” retired after thirty years in the oral communications industry including two agencies, Word of Mouth, Inc. and SecuritySpeak, LLC, through which she coached and represented speakers from across the globe for audiences worldwide. She herself has address audiences as large as two thousand as a motivational speaker and designed and delivered hundreds of workshops, seminars and programs in effective communication for real people making differences in their communities, workplaces and industries. Lisa continues to teach at the college level and serves as an advisor to the CUNY Queens College Forensics Team. She also coordinates Book & Author events for best-selling author and keynote speaker Talia Carner. Rumor has it that Lisa does head back to her recording devices and microphone to work on compelling projects. If you’ve got one or need a master class, contact her at BriefingsTalksLectures@gmail.com or in live voice at (203) 293-4741.