by Brian Tomasik
Presented on 13 February 2004 as the first speech I gave to my high-school "public speaking" class.
Uploaded 6 Aug. 2017.
There are many people whom we never meet in person, whom we encounter only through the pages of books or the light and sound emitted by a television set. And yet, these people can have profound impacts on our lives. One of them for me is Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
I have been influenced by Mister Rogers for as long as I can remember. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is the first television program I can remember seeing. I would always enjoy the entire show, although I distinctly remember being especially excited whenever the trolley was brought out and entered the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The impact of the show continued even after the TV had been turned off, for [one of my relatives] would vocally imitate the puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, especially Lady Elaine. We even used our video camera in filming two homemade imitations of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
However, the biggest influence of Mister Rogers was on my attitudes toward life. Both explicitly through his discussions and songs and implicitly through his demeanor, Mister Rogers shaped much of my personality.
He demonstrated the importance of hard work, both through his own personal assiduity and through his songs. One of them, titled “You’ve Got to Do It,” explains that while it is fine to wish for or pretend something, you actually have to work to make it happen. Perhaps even more importantly, Mister Rogers showed that hard work can be—and, in fact, ought to be—enjoyable. He nearly always carried a sincere smile, whether he was cleaning up a mess or walking a friend’s dog.
Mister Rogers also emphasized the value of patience. He sang a song—“Let’s Think of Something to Do While We’re Waiting”—whenever he had to wait a minute for something to happen. The slow, steady pace of the show, moreover, provided a comforting break from the rushed pace of everyday life. On several occasions, Mister Rogers would stop for a minute or two, simply to offer viewers an opportunity for quiet contemplation.
I first learned how to manage anger from Mister Rogers. One of his songs, “What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel,” emphasized that while it is normal to feel anger, it is important to deal with it in a safe way, such as by punching a bag or running a race with friends.a Whenever I am filled with rage, I often remember this song and realize that there are ways of relieving negative emotion that are not destructive.
Perhaps most importantly, Mister Rogers helped me to appreciate the wonder of life. He was always curious about and fascinated by new things. In almost every program, he would visit a new place—such as a graham cracker factory—or a new person—such as a man who arranged extensive domino paths. Mister Rogers also showed short films on how people make flashlights or paper or balloons. One of his best songs, entitled, “Did You Know that It’s All Right to Wonder,” declared that “there are all kinds of wonderful, all kinds of marvelous, marvelously wonderful things.” Mister Rogers influenced me to be fascinated, awed, and inspired by all aspects of life, from the smallest detail in grammar to the most prodigious questions about the origins of the universe. Life holds as much wonder as we care to find in it; Mister Rogers encouraged his viewers to look for more.
Many of the principles that Mister Rogers espoused may seem unrealistically idealistic and naïve, as if they could only work in a perfect world. However, I have found that these values can make a difference to whatever extent we allow them to make a difference. Work can be as enjoyable as we make it; waiting is as tolerable as we decide to think of it; life holds as much meaning and wonder we wish to find in it.b The practice of these ideas is not confined to an ideal world. Much to the contrary, these principles represent valuable ways to make the recognizably imperfect world in which we find ourselves just a little bit better.
In class, we were required to present our speech in front of a video camera and then to watch ourselves on the television screen. While doing the latter, I took the following notes on ways to improve my delivery of this speech in particular and of all speeches in general.
Avoid the following:
- Especially during the rewinding of the tape, it was apparent that I tended to shift back and forth.
- When I was unable to think of a word, I would shake my hands and/or my head.
- I tended to turn down to look at my paper even when I didn’t need to; this seems to be a bad way of distracting attention from myself.
- I had little intonation.
- I am often so conscious of proper word choice that I hesitate inordinately. I need simply to choose a word and say it without concern for its perfect appropriateness.
- I tended to stare at one point—the camera. This will be less problematic in the actual presentation, but I need to remember to look at the audience and not at my paper for distraction.
- I tended to say “really” as a qualifier; it detracted from my message.
My formal, written self-evaluation
Overall, my speech went quite well. I believe I spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear me clearly, and my enunciation of words was good enough that the audience could understand pretty much everything I said. I made only a few minor verbal errors, the type that are bound to occur from time to time. When I first practiced the speech in front of the video camera, I made several mistakes and started and stopped abruptly because I was just becoming familiar with the material I planned to say. By the time of the speech, however, I had practiced it several times and was comfortable enough putting into words the ideas I wanted to convey that the speech went rather smoothly. I did pause a few times to grasp a word at the tip of my tongue, but I deliberately avoided filling the silence with “um” or “ah.” I also steered away from the sudden completion of my speech with “in conclusion” or “that’s it.” Each of these aspects of voice went quite well, but I could still use practice and improvement in enunciation. I would also like to improve my intonation and practice stressing those words and phrases that are meant to be emphasized.
My body language during the speech was also, for the most part, effective. Although I used many hand motions, most of them were appropriate to the point being made; I do not think they were overly distracting, either, since they were largely controlled and not overly forceful. I did notice that I tended to shift around during the speech, but I consciously strove to walk gently back and forth instead of leaning to one side and then the other, as I often tend to do. I would like to learn to eliminate distracting movement altogether, either by standing still or by developing a movement technique that does not detract from—and maybe even enhances—the presentation. I did fairly well with eye contact. I normally tend to look at my paper more than I need to just to avoid looking at the audience, but I resisted that temptation quite well in this speech. I found that the area of eye contact in which I need improvement is not in looking at the audience but rather in moving my gaze around the entire room instead of focusing on a few groups of desks.
Not only was my speech fairly well delivered; it was also well prepared. I spent a good deal of time outlining my thoughts and organizing them into a logical sequence. I evaluated each main point, adding details to some areas that needed more explanation and shortening other areas that were too long. I also experimented with different ways to express certain ideas and to catch the attention of the audience with the lead. The well prepared content of the speech enabled me to focus more attention on the delivery skills, including voice and body language. By continuing to do this, I can work on improving my intonation, my shifting around, and my eye movement.
- Many psychologists consider this viewpoint a myth. Morin (2015): "Punching your pillow, trashing the room, or screaming to your heart's content doesn't actually 'release' your pent up rage. In fact, research shows that venting your anger in this way actually has the opposite effect: The more you vent, the worse you'll feel." (back)
- Brian in 2017: I'm now more skeptical of the ability of deliberate thoughts to control emotions to this degree. I think a decent fraction of emotion is subject to the whims of environmental and neurological circumstances, unless perhaps you spend as much time as Buddhist monks learning to control your mind? (back)