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The Warkworth Service Club – November 18, 2010

November 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

‘Adam Had a Garden’ is the title of my upcoming speech to The Warkworth Service Club in the village of Warkworth, Ontario. The club, apparently one of the largest for a small community, is holding its Dinner-Business meeting at St. Paul’s United Church on the evening of November 18.

For me as a speaker, one thing will be the same but in other ways it will be a new venture. What will be the same? My use of a lectern and notes — because of my brain-memory damage. My short-term memory problem was one of several conditions that followed my being prescribed four strong drugs when I was admitted, during the summer holidays in1993, to the psychiatric wing of a Toronto hospital with major depression.

What will be new? Several things including my speech topic, age of audience and time of day. As for time, this speech will be sandwiched (pun intended) between a dinner at 6:30 and a business meeting at 7:30. Most of my speeches are delivered in the morning or afternoon. My presentation this year at St. Paul’s Elementary School in Norwood was in the morning before first recess. My two speeches at Norwood District High School were in the afternoon. When I’m not in schools, meeting time is usually in the evening, one example being my speech this year at The Toronto Public Library.

As for age, this audience will be adults only. Usually I’m in front of mainly teenage students with a few teachers. At the elementary school in Norwood, referred to above, the pupils ranged in age from nine to twelve, grade four to eight. At the high school in Norwood (I seem to like Norwood!), the students were the 13 to 14-year-old grade nines and the 16 to 17-year-old grade twelves.

It was a real joy to be with these audiences. I make it a practice to hand out a feedback form at the end of nearly all my presentations. What a lovely surprise it was to have every student hand in a completed form. One student wrote, “It wasn’t a speech by someone who didn’t actually know what it is to be depressed…and how to fix it.”

The third novelty will be my speech topic. In this case, ‘Adam Had a Garden’ is an intentionally humorous speech. I say ‘intentionally’ because even in my speeches on depression, there are lots of laughs.

When I stand in front of secondary students, the topic is usually the teen version of Down with Depression, in which I deal with the connection between teenage depression and suicide. At The Toronto Public Library, where the youngest audience member was 18, I delivered the adult version of this same speech. In both places, I drew on my own experience and from my latest-published book — If Only Sleep Would Last Forever: Help for Depression and Anxiety from One Who’s Been There. Different speeches obviously allow a speaker to serve different needs in the audiences. My original intention was to deliver that same speech on depression to the Service club. Also on my short list were The Private and the President (Abraham Lincoln), In the Land of Nod (on dreams), and my short story ‘The Wheelbarrow.’ But Adam Had a Garden seemed to rise to the top.

In front of elementary students, the topic is usually ‘Ways to Reduce Fear in Public Speaking.’ Which is rather ironic when you understand that when I gave my very first speech, which was at NDHS (you guessed it — Norwood District High School!), I fell flat on my face. In fact, for most of my life, speaking in front of others topped my list of Life’s Most Dreaded Activities. Yet, at the same time, it was my childhood dream.

Back then, I was a fearful, shy, and self-conscious little know-nothing from a little farm, having to stand up in front of a teacher (!) and peers who I saw as mainly confident, sophisticated city-slickers. What my topic was I don’t recall. What I do recall were my tied tongue, knocking knees, and that I never wanted to do it again.

Now, I see my audience members as duplicates of myself, each having some problem, needing some help. I see myself taking to my neighbours a tool of vital importance, that they really need but don’t have, and only I can give them. What I offer to share are smiles, wisdom and encouragement. Which helps me perspire a little less and maybe inspire a little more.

As a person who spent his first few weeks of life in SickKids Hospital with digestive problems, who was extremely shy, who has sleep apnea and gluten intolerance, who ended up in the psychiatric ward with major depression, who needs notes and a lectern to offset his memory damage, I consider myself privileged to stand in front of audiences of individuals like myself — individuals having some problem and needing some help — and maybe inspire one of them to overcome.

The good folks at The Warkworth Service Club may not take home any extra wisdom from ‘Adam Had a Garden,’ but they may leave with a few smiles and a little encouragement, if they have a heart — and a funnybone.

Murray C. Watson

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