Dow RICHARDSON is editor of the Kokomo, Indiana, TRIBUNE.This is his second appearance in the ATLANTIC.
I am on the mailing lists of certain corporations, which send me brochures of their executives’ speeches, and I’m grateful. It is a courtesy I hope to continue deserving, for sometimes I even find things in the speeches that interest me.
Most of the speeches begin with acknowledgements of the generous introduction which the speaker has received. These acknowledgements are written into the draft in advance of the speech’s delivery, and that is what I find so arresting about them.
How could the speaker know that the introduction would be copious and flattering? How could he know that it would even be worth acknowledging? Is it a foregone conclusion that the program chairman will present his speaker lavishly?
Suppose the introduction is short and devoid of praise. Suppose it merely mentions the speaker and doesn’t allude to his notable career or forensic gifts. What would the speaker say? Would he, thrown off stride by the unforeseen trend of events, read what he had written anyway and express his pleasure over a fulsome presentation that wasn’t profuse at all?
I saw a real-life example of this when a speaker had prepared a grandiloquent response to a gracious introduction he assumed he would get. He was stunned when the chairman said merely, “I now present Fred Bilge, president of the Fenderdent Repair Corporation.” The first two jokes that the speaker had chosen related to the flowery identification he had counted on receiving, and for two or three minutes he had to read through them silently before determining where to begin. It was touch and go for a while there, and he almost lost his audience.
A program chairman once told me about a marginal note on the copy of a speech. He had been asked by the speaker to read the opening paragraph of his written remarks and give an opinion as to whether the jokes were in questionable taste. My friend the chairman was startled to find a parenthetical reminder which the speaker had penciled in, heavily, below each joke: “Pause for applause.”
I have never seen this marginal note included in pamphlet copies of a speech by an executive, or by anyone else for that matter, although I rather expect that one will appear on my desk someday. If one does turn up, I shall be sure to clap my hands appreciatively before putting it in the newspaper.