Whoopee Cushions, Mother Teresa, and Public Speaking

Whoopee Cushions, Mother Teresa, and Public Speaking

A Peek into Dan's World of Communication

My world of public speaking, communication training, and following Jesus all began during the troubling teen years. Below is my disastrous inauguration into the world of public speaking. It was during English class, my freshman year in High School ...

My first foray into forensic speech – a talk titled, "How to Use a Whoopee Cushion" – was a flatulent failure. In the middle of my speech, when the critical moment came to open the cushion's mouth (to blow up the bladder), my hands trembled uncontrollably. 15 seconds of complete silence, while my audience gawked at my spasmodic panic. 15 seconds? It felt like 15 hours! Without uttering another word, I stumbled back to my seat – speech terminated. Humiliated, I voicelessly vowed, "I will never speak publicly again."

However, as a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, my vow was thwarted. The curriculum mandated all students take the dreaded Introduction to Speech course. Having recently become a Christian, I understood that a relationship with God meant practically trusting Him. So, at great personal risk, not only did I enroll in Speech 101 ... I took it for honors credit. That meant my classmates would be the best and brightest at UW. You know, little JFK's who were champions on their high school Debate teams. (I was in the Honors program and reasoned that, if I intended to trust God with my life, I'd better start with the toughest Speech class).

What Happened?

Sure enough, I was outgunned by eloquent orators in my class. They were confident, polished, and winsome. I, on the other hand, was simply terrified. Yet the Professor (Dr. Stephen Lucas) was masterful at engaging my mind in critical thinking and inspiring me to deploy words to make a difference.

Eventually, the critical moment came while preparing an epideictic speech (a speech of praise or eulogy). I chose as my subject: Mother Teresa. I earnestly labored over that speech more than any other assignment in college. I inserted every stylistic device I could think of: alliteration, visual imagery, parallel structure, vivid language. You name it. If it was in the toolbox, I pulled it out.

That speech was videotaped. Two years later, I discovered that my video became the model speech shown in every Introduction to Speech class at UW. Why? Not because of great delivery, but because I tenaciously deployed every rhetorical device to paint a compassionate picture of Mother Teresa's character.

From that time forward, inspirational communication became my joy, not my dread. Crafting speeches cemented my love for the power of words and their dynamic effect.

As a young follower of Jesus, I could think of no greater Subject to devote my newfound passion to, than Him. He became the soaring melody in every speech I sang. The nervous excitement, the heat of battle, the struggle in the arena ... it was all there when speaking to an audience about my King. He was worthy of my best attempts, even if I failed.

"Some men die in ashes, and some men die in flames; but most men die inch-by-inch, playing silly little games."  – source unknown

No silly little games for me.


Today my passion remains to speak about Jesus and train speakersespecially those who shine the spotlight on him. As I train them, it is my conviction that effective communication will demand congruity in two areas:

  1. the interior life of the speaker (his/her character, content, and capacity to connect), and
  2. the exterior delivery skills (eye contact, face and gesture, posture and movement, and voice).

To that end, I've developed 24 lessons/articles on effective public speaking, that I'll unroll in the months ahead (I'm still deciding when I'll post these – probably this fall).

It is my hope that everything I write will point you to the Greatest Communicator of all time – the only One who can satisfy your deepest longings. His name is Jesus, and He is life. If you'd like to know more about how my relationship with Jesus began, click here. For more on the intersection of effective communication and Jesus, stay tuned!

PS  I just found my old college speech ... it's attached below, edited for some grammar, etc.