Tongue-tied or just not ready

This was to be the first North American convention of apprenticeship directors which also included Canada and Mexico; experienced hands in the construction industry devoting their time and knowledge to educating young people who preferred to work with their hands instead of studying to receive a college degree in liberal arts.  

The president of the company in charge of the convention was to be the keynote speaker; I was to organize, set up, send invitations and do all the other details at a central hotel where all the invitees would feel welcome and ready to share their knowledge with the rest of us.

The hotel was set up, the invitations sent, the details all completed, and I was ready to take a back seat and enjoy the conference. However, the keynote speaker had a bout of indigestion the day before we were to travel, which turned out to be serious and he ended up at the emergency doors of the local hospital, unable to fly to our destination.

Since I was the person designated to write the keynote speech and the speaker was unavailable, the duty rested on my shoulders. Yikes! For this I was not prepared and was not looking forward to delivering a speech written for someone else.

I was as ready as I could be, speech in hand, looking out to this enormous room filled to capacity with directors ready to hear what I had to say. My hands were sweaty, my eyes were filled with clouds, my legs were wobbly, my heart was pumping at a rapid pace and for the life of me I couldn’t read a single line.

I looked out to see an all-male audience, not a single female in the group; their eyes were riveted toward me and all I could say was… I couldn’t say anything. I was paralyzed and wanted a big hole to open at my feet so I could sink into it and never come back for air again, so I started talking as if my life depended on it. I apologized for the keynote speaker being indisposed, told them how grateful I was to see all of them gathered in one spot to talk about how to improve the apprenticeship program and said thank you. None of the notes I had so painstakingly gathered were read, nothing of the speech was spoken and I left the podium as if I was being chased by an elephant.

Embarrassed? Yes, very much indeed. However, as the convention continued, everyone I met said the speech was brilliant because they did not feel ready to spend the next 20-30 minutes listening to someone telling them how great or how lousy or whatever and all the same nonsense they hear often during conferences. They were ready to hit the hotel bar and enjoy the camaraderie to which they look forward, making new friends and acquaintances, exchanging ideas and having a good time.

The rest of the conference was well-received, I made quite a few new friends and waited to get back to my work where an irate president might be waiting after being released from his hospital stay. He may even fire me.

Weber, a former Cedar County Republican reporter, continues to contribute occasional columns.

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