Speechmaking by James R. Coggins

I never did very well at public speaking in high school. Once a year, all of the students would have to make a speech in English class. The students who had done the best in each class would then compete against each other in a school-wide competition. Again, the best were chosen to compete against the best from other schools at the regional level, and so on.

I never progressed beyond my own classroom, always finishing with a B or a C, in the middle of the pack.

This is odd because I am one of the few people from my high school who has done any public speaking as an adult. Sometimes I have even been paid for it. Many people would rather swim in shark-infested waters than speak publicly, but I enjoy it.

This has puzzled me for some time. I concluded that one of the reasons for the disconnect between my high school speechmaking and my later speechmaking lies in the content rules. As students, we were told that we could talk about any subject except religion and politics. Those topics were considered too controversial.

This is distinctly odd if we think about the usual topics for adult speechmaking. Adults really make few speeches. Besides teaching, the two main arenas for public speaking are religion and politics. That is, the primary forms of adult speeches are sermons and political campaign speeches. I’ve delivered both.

So, the school decided that the topics that were not allowed for students’ speeches were the two main topics covered by adult speeches. No wonder I didn’t do well at high school speechmaking. Outside of these two topics, there is not much worth making speeches about.

Jesus said that the two primary commandments were to love God and our neighbor. Those are the arenas of religion and politics. Sermons tell us about loving God, and political speeches should outline the best ways to love our fellow human beings. Jesus evidently knew a lot about good speechmaking.

About jrcoggins

James R. Coggins is a professional writer and editor based in British Columbia, Canada. He wrote his first novel in high school, but, fortunately for his later reputation as a writer, it was never published. He briefly served as a Christian magazine editor (for just over 20 years). He has written everything from scholarly and encyclopedia articles to jokes in Reader’s Digest (the jokes paid better). His six and a half published books include four John Smyth murder mysteries and one other, stand-alone novel. In his spare time, he operates Mill Lake Books, a small publishing imprint. His website is www.coggins.ca
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