Rising to meet the Eminent Speech

Eminent Speech Evaluation

Almost without fail, the Eminent Person Speech reigns supreme as the element of the annual project that produces – in the estimation of teachers, peers, and self-assessment – the highest quality work. While there are inevitably remarkable pieces of work contributed to various aspects of the study, whether in Night of the Notables learning centers, interview coups, or blogged representations of learning, and in grade nine or ten, the Eminent Speech rises above.

This year, when polled on the During which assignment do you feel you created your best work?aspect of the study during which they produced their best work, a full 60% of respondents (at the time of this writing, constituting about 85% of the two classes) highlighted their efforts to craft their speech.

Added to this insight, a follow up question asks the TALONS to “describe the process that led to the success highlighted in the previous question,” allowing the process leading to this highly successful aspect of the study to come more clearly into light.

A surprise finding? The best work is the result of tireless effort.


Prepare, prepare, prepare

A grade ten describes their preparations:

I made sure to write my speech early on so that I had plenty of time to practice it. I practiced it until I knew it inside and out, so that I could recite it no matter what was going on. And having done that, when it was finally my turn to present, I wasn’t nervous at all.

Another thing that really helped was that a lot of the other tens took time to read my speech and help me edit it in the early stages. They guided me to what lines were a little awkward and how to fix my body motions.

Another ten offers the following:

First of all, this year I wrote my speech draft much earlier than the due date compared to last year. Due to this fact, I was able to receive a lot of great feedback from my peers during the writing process, which then allowed me to improve my speech even further. Once my draft was written, I was lucky that I had a lot of time to rehearse my speech. One step that led my speech to success during this stage was that I didn’t just rehearse the words, I also rehearsed body language and movement, and the use of the stage.

A grade nine dissects their drafting process further:

When I was writing, I didn’t limit my thoughts, writing down everything I wanted to include in the speech. By doing this, my speech originally was actually fifteen minutes long. I then took the time, with the help of my mom, to cut down the speech, take out details that weren’t needed, and rephrase events. I think that by writing down every single thought and event that occurred within the period of time the speech was focusing on, I was able to make the speech more thorough and interesting.

As does this one:

I believe it was the drafting process that led me to success on my eminent speech. I did a drafting process where I started writing, then got a better idea of what I wanted to say, and then I would start over. I did this until I didn’t quite start over, but edited previous parts until I was satisfied by the whole thing.

While this grade nine shares the evolution at the heart of his character’s metamorphosis:

During the process of writing the speech, I made a list of points that I wanted to include. After the first draft, I was struck with the idea of the extended metaphor of the caterpillar. I then wrote the second draft, taking the components of the first and smoothing it out. Finally, I edited and revised my speech to create more fluidity.


Overcoming Fear

For many TALONS, the prospect of delivering an eminent address, whether in the classroom as the grade nines are asked, or on stage with the grade tens on Night of the Notables, is a daunting challenge. As Jerry Seinfeld humourously notes, for many of us public speaking is more popularly feared than death, meaning that “to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than giving the eulogy.”

A grade nine offers this reflection on overcoming a longstanding fear:

I believe my speech was my best work because it was the one I exceeded my own expectations the most in. I used to be quite an abhorrent public speaker, always getting overly nervous, shaking, mumbling, and having a monotone; but in this speech I was able to overcome my nervousness and actually deliver it satisfactorily.

The key to overcoming this anxiety? Revision, feedback, and support:

“I think my speech content was pretty good, considering that it went through six drafts and many, many people gave me feedback.”


In another question, the same TALONS learner reflects on the contributions of a patient parent:

“My dad, along with giving me feedback on many of speech drafts, put up with me reciting my speech over and over in the days leading up to November 24th. Without his patience with me, giving me feedback and listening intently during the many, many times I recited my speech to him, I wouldn’t have had nearly as good a speech as I did. He gave me important pointers, such as where I started rushing, and he gave me confidence. With that confidence, I was able to deliver my speech well.”

A grade ten reflects on the input of a sibling:

“My brother contributed with helping me write my speech. Before I had written a draft that I was happy with I had written about five different speeches. But I hated them all because I didn’t think I was getting my main message across to the audience, namely that we shouldn’t stop because something is hard to do, that we should keep going until it becomes easy to do.

“One day I went to talk with my brother about my speech and how I wanted the audience to feel, and he suggested that I go for something powerful and try to address what [my eminent person] goes through as daily obstacles. This advice really helped me take a second look at how I was writing my speech and which side of [them] I wanted to show. Without my brother I wouldn’t have been able to re-think my speech and really focus on what was imported.”


Another deals with overcoming a primal fear:

“Probably everyone out there knows that I do not like speeches, so even the fact that I did mine made me extremely happy.

“The writing process was extremely difficult. After changing perspectives three times and either going way over or way under the time limit, I was close to admitting defeat. Finally, I was happy with a fifth draft of my third perspective change. I was very happy with my written speech, but then came the delivery.

“Presenting my speech was probably the most nerve wracking five minutes of my life, but with the help of my friends, I managed to get through it. Before my speech started, I gave myself some goals and guidelines to follow. I reminded myself that, having not done many speeches in my life, this was not going to turn out perfect, so instead of worrying about that, I would focus on eye contact and pacing.

“My biggest goal was to come off as confident and though I’m sure more people knew how nervous I was, I believe that I was able to reach this goal (well, at least to some extent). While I’m still not ready to perform speeches without any hesitation, I’m glad I got this opportunity to face my fears.”

In responding to another question, a grade ten offers a similar account of working through the fear of performing at Night of the Notables:

What will you (or do you want to) remember about this project? 

“I want to, and will remember the fact that I was able to manage my anxiety regarding the presentation of my speech on the Night of the Notables. I have never liked drama and performing arts, which is somewhat contradictory when you take my commitment and love of [competitive] piping into account. I can will myself to march calmly towards thousands of spectators, flashing cameras and judges at the world championships. Yet, when I have to deliver a two-minute speech to a hundred supportive and encouraging people I’m a wreck. When I perform with my band, I have a safety net; I have never needed it but I know it’s there. When I speak or play by myself, even if it’s exponentially easier than what I do with my band I doubt myself.

“I don’t give speeches in front of large audiences often, but I compete in solo piping competitions often and I have come to recognize the progression and stages of my anxiety. I have been working on becoming more comfortable in these situations for over a year and I think the Eminent Address was an important milestone for me. I was extremely nervous a few days before the night, but I was able to tell myself, ‘You always feel this way before something like this,’ and ‘Imagine how you will feel on December 4th’ and I was able to control my anxiety and give a speech I was happy with.”

Together, we are strong

Perhaps the theme running beneath all of this wild success though is the support and community that is taking shape in the TALONS room by late November, where each member of the class is learning that they are here to test themselves, and hold one another up above their prior expectations. Parents who get to see what the program is ‘all about’ for the first time at Night of the Notables often remark at how exceptional the grade ten addresses are – “I feel totally inadequate now,” the parent of an alumni told me this year – and wonder how it is their children and their peers have been so transformed.


What they don’t know, or what cannot be seen, is what is often taking place behind the curtain, in those moments before the show, when greatness waits out on the stage under the lights to be seized.

Reflecting on this moment, a grade ten shares a glimpse of what community looks like:

“There was one moment when we were behind the stage, floating around and whispering encouragement to our peers. The atmosphere had become quiet and focused, as it was a couple of minutes until showtime. I was learning against a wall, breathing deeply.

“Our first speaker looked a bit nervous and was sitting against the wall next to the curtains. Someone, I can’t remember who, whispered something about the Superman pose, and how it was supposed to increase confidence and make you less stressed. So the majority of our class assumed this pose, and stood there in silence for about a minute. I remember looking at us and thinking that we were superheroes. Not just our first speaker, who looked relieved to have something to take his mind off the upcoming stress, but everyone standing there.

“We shared that moment behind the stage, trusting one another to make the night wonderful, and feeling that trust back in the tight, long-held hugs and the same emotions on everyone’s face. It was a really special experience.”

The Summer Book Project

Jack Kerouac Manuscript Photo in San Francisco Magazine

Photo by Thomas Hawk (click image to read the interesting history of this photograph)

For a formative period in my youth, I was made of books and words. Half a continent from home at the end of my adolescence, I filled the blank slate of my life in Arkansas with the stories and poetry of the literary zeitgeist of people like Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison or Douglas Coupland.

Such was the impact and guidance of these written voices, I set out at twenty to contribute to the world the verbose favour my idols had given to me. I changed my major – from Biology to English – and began a journey inward, striving to explore and give name to that singular storm of experience and mind that was mine alone, and make something of the intangible mystery of life.

I wrote, and wrote. And wrote.

Journals, essays, stories, poems. Novels, nonfiction, songs and sharpie-scribbled graffiti on fliers and scraps of paper around my campus.

The arc of those years – from leaving home at eighteen for Arkansas, and returning home more than five years later – is plotted in ragged journals, floppy disks, printed pages and the highlighted passages of a few hundred books. And while I’m still very much the young man who worshipped Kerouac and Kundera, and Kafka, I’m more and more aware of the tuning of new pages into a different sense of adulthood than I’ve yet known.

I wonder what the thirty-two year old me would see in the self of ten years ago, and have been toying with an idea that might give some sense of an introduction between them: over the next ten weeks, I’m planning to go back through a few of those seminal texts, see if I can dig up my own corresponding writings of when I was reading them, and reflect on what the intervening years have wrought.

To keep the project focused and attainable, I’ve picked three books to re-read this summer, all of which lent considerable influence to my young mind:

I read On the Road during Christmas Break at home in the year 2000, Immortality while working at a Boy Scout Summer Camp in the Ozark Mountains in 2003, and One Hundred Years of Solitude sometime toward the end of 2004. Roughly coinciding with my time in university (1999-2004), I’m excited at the prospect of using at least some of my vacation time this summer looking back on those years when my reality was written in my own words, and the words of others.

Reflections on the Confederation Discussions

Confederation Discussions

Colonial Government & the Need for Reform Discussion

As part of the ongoing assessment of personal and collective learning that went into the class’ study of Canadian Confederation, TALONS learners were asked to reflect on their quad’s presentation & facilitation of a discussion topic pulled from the unit, taking into account the Nine Dispositions of Democratic Discussions. As with many of these sorts of assessments / reflections in our classroom, the reflection was built around the familiar Stars (things that went well) and Wishes (things that we would like to improve).

My own reflections on the discussions are posted here, and I think several of the themes in my own observations are reflected by the TALONS who chose to submit their self-assessments as blog posts. Here are a few of the stars and wishes collected on the class blogs this week:

Some stars

From Kim:

I think that something our group did very well at was providing a level of comfort within the talons classroom. Almost everyone participated; even those who normally just listened. I think this was because people were no longer afraid of sharing their opinions in the classroom, as they had a solid fact to base them off of (what was written on the red piece of paper). Also, I think that people were able to fill the shoes of the type of Canadian that they had to portray in the card that they were given. Therefore, people were not only able to participate, but they were able to effectively adopt a new viewpoint on the grievances too.

From Owen:

During our group discussion synthesis, the disposition that I felt was best emphasized was that of mindfulness. I felt the groups communicated well within its members to discuss relevant topics. They helped each other put forth ideas discussed by the group when necessary (the hospitality present was also well-emphasized). When debating inter-group topics, people stayed on the topic that was being discussed and presented arguments to benefit the outcome of the conversation. People were mindful of the importance of each idea, and would debate that instead of ignoring ideas and putting forth their own points. As I was overhearing group discussions, I also felt that members within each group were willing to give everyone’s ideas thought and time.

From Sam F:

The disposition that I thought I was particularly successful at was participation. I felt that the task we got the class to do encouraged everyone to participate. My quad and I separately circulated around the class when the groups were instructed to discuss what group they would vote for, to answer any questions if necessary and to direct the conversation to somewhere the participants would benefit. When I went around to all the quads, I tried to push to help develop ideas in the quad discussions. To do this, I asked questions to generate more thought-process, and tried to direct the conversation to people who generally participated a little less. If needed, I would rephrase ideas and statements, and clarify the differences between the many parties.

From Jeanie:

…as an individual, I feel that I did an acceptable job in the disposition of humility. When playing as “Canada” against “Britain”, there were often moments in which our quad could not argue back against Britain. Even though I did not openly concede that they had brilliant points, I realized our position in the debate and accepted their excellent arguments with peace.

From Tiffany:

In general, I think the one disposition that I had throughout all our discussions was hope. Now, this may be one of the less popular ones people talk about, and it is also the one that many forget about sometimes. Like I’ve mentioned before, this unit was a difficult one for me. I struggled with participating in class, and grasping many concepts of the Confederation, but I never let that get me down. I knew that, somewhere at some time, whether it was the next day or a week later, I would improve on these aspects. I welcomed improvement and failure, and made more room for myself to grow. I built faith in myself, and hoped that my strengths and perseverance would pull through in the end. In my opinion, they did.

From Galen:

One of my strengths that I have shown in this presentation was deliberation. Even when we taught and moderated the discussion in the classroom, I always took my thoughts that I had gathered during our teachings and shared it with others before and after, even writing it down to reflect on. During the debate in our presentation, I didn’t moderate as much as I may have been supposed to, but I was always mindful of questions and problems that others had brought up, and I communicated answers to others helping moderating our debate.

From Max:

Appreciation: The main reason why I feel like I excelled in the disposition of appreciation is because with our activity of forcing the class at large to take on the role of Britain and defend our quad’s accusations of them mistreating the Canadas. With this unique role bestowed upon the class, it forces them to think in a completely different perspective, and puts them into the rarely worn shoes of the antagonist. (Though really, the “antagonist” is subjective; in this case because we’re learning Social Studies in Canada, we see us being mistreated by the British.) With this unique role, the class was able to not only in the position of Britain, but also appreciate their point of view and come up with convincing and unbeatable arguments against Canadas’ grievances.

Some wishes

From Natalie:

Some things I feel I need to work on are Deliberation and Appreciation. The specific aspects of Deliberation that I feel as though I need to work on are seeing other`s viewpoints and not just my own. I find myself often driven to reach a consensual opinion about any given topic, especially one that is detestably controversial as topics often are in the TALONS`social study classes. This point is a nice seg-way into my next point which is that I feel my appreciation for class opinions could be improved. I love hearing about the opinions and different view`s of my peers, however I do still find it somewhat frustrating when someone (or a particular group of people) cannot see that my way is the right way.

From Jeff:

Something I think that I could work on is definitely nurturing more mindful thought through our discussion. Although we went through a lot of concepts, I didn’t really stop the conversation to ask “why?” One example is talking about immigration. Although we understood that Irish and Scottish migrants came to British North America because they disliked the class system, I could have connected that to the class system in Canada at the time and how it was very similar.

From Victoria:

What I think I could improve on was Hospitality. It really is difficult to be hospitable when having a debate with someone…. The whole point of a debate is to argue against the other person. However I feel as though I could have been more hospitable and in turn, this could have helped fostered more discussion. This might have also helped some of the quieter people to join into the conversation because they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fast pace that the debate took.

From Max:

Hospitality: Although initially I tried my best to remind the class to let people who haven’t talked as much do some talking, once the debate got underway and got heated, it was back to the loud people making all the points back and forth. I didn’t create a very hospitable environment for the more timid people to jump in as points were being fired back and forth both rapidly and furiously, which would probably cause people to shy away from talking for fear of being shut down.

From Sam:

I feel I lack in deliberation, always really stubborn with my views and thoughts on things. It’s hard to change my mindset when it’s already fixed on one thing, and it’s a bit of a one-way track in that sense. I’m proud of it sometimes, if only because I know my principals and moral code are set in stone, however; it makes learning things I know even the smallest bit about a teensy bit harder.

From Tiffany:

A disposition that I could have improved on, as an audience member and as a discussion leader is deliberation. I didn’t stop to think more about ideas that could have been branched off and elaborated on. I would just think of an idea, and feel like I was done. It’s almost as if I would do only half the work in my head and believe that I would finish the idea later. However, I think this also improved as I gained more experience with discussions. I would walk into class, being so sure of something, and then one of my quad members would say a completely different point that would make me reconsider my take on the subject. I found that I could learn a lot from my classmates, and I think the people around me have played a part in my improvement as well.

From Jess:

I think that hope is a subject that I need to work on. This is a reflection, so I’ll reflect on both our class and the rest of the week. Hope represents, to me, the hope to progress in work and become better. I probably need to work on that in the sense that I need to encourage others to do it more. While I may not be the best candidate to explain how or why people don’t try to exceed, I felt that during the week, in general, people didn’t stray outside their comfort zones. Those who didn’t were okay with giving the same amount of participation over the course of the week. I wish I could say I knew how to encourage people more, but I don’t. So, while I can try and do this more, I’m not quite sure how successful I’ll be. Of course, there is always the awkward truth of the matter that there’s only so much one person can do.