Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: After Dinner Speaking

Fawcett Boom's After Dinner Speaking is a short, practical book published in 1991. I picked it up in the mid-90s, when I was putting in my time with various Bar organizations and had to do my share of speaker introductions and opening remarks. Too bad I never read the book back then. I usually ended up winging it and my attempts at public speaking were always too glib, too rushed, and generally botched.

This book could have helped, mostly by its calm assurance that, if well-prepared and audience-appropriate, any speech will be a success. Boom gives general guidelines for preparing to give a speech, specific tips for particular events, samples of great speeches with an explanation of why they worked so well, and then useful quotes to work into a speech.

The book is outdated in some ways. For one thing, Boom’s suggestions for how to research seem quaint – and time consuming – when Google will give us the type of background information he talks about in a matter of minutes. Also, although Boon warns readers away from earlier books about public speaking on the grounds that they are overly formal and old-fashioned, some of his tips sound pretty hoary themselves. For example, the he suggests that rules of etiquette should be flexibly applied at modern weddings to accommodate such radical changes as “where the bride makes a speech on behalf of herself and her husband. It happens!”

This book was published in Australia, so many of the references are unfamiliar to American readers. For instance, he uses the term “hens’ night” instead of bachelorette party. And I take it that a “Parents and Citizens” group is akin to an American PTA. These cultural differences are more interesting than annoying. Nothing in the book is groundbreaking or even eye catching. But it would provide some emotional hand-holding for anyone nervous about public speaking.

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