At The Walk-In Clinic by Steve Rapson

It’s March 5th. We, Rosemary and Steve, have returned from our road trip with Steve suffering an ailment. Seeing that whatever it is will not go away on its own, I take my brother’s advice and call the dermatologist/allergist office:

 “Dermatologist’s office…”

 “Hello, may I make an appointment for a skin problem?”

“We are booking for the end of April.”

“But, I am really suffering now.”

“I don’t know what to tell you.”

 “I guess I’ll call my primary.”

 “Do that.”


 Meanies… though not blue.

 (dial, dial, dial… or push, push, push, actually)

 “Primary care…”

 “Hello, I have a bad rash and I think I need to see my doctor.”

 “Who is your doctor?”

 “Dr. Beckett.”

 “We’re making appointments for mid-April.”

 “I really need to see someone sooner.”

 “Go to the walk-in clinic, if they can’t help you they’ll send you to the ER.”

 “The ER…?  I thought that’s where you went when you had no insurance or were bleeding.”

 “Walk-in will help you.”

 “OK, thanks.”

 Rosemary and I go to the walk-in clinic at Mount Auburn Hospital. We stop at the information desk and are told to go to registration first. At registration we give my name, a brief problem description, sit and wait about fifteen minutes before we are called: 


 “G. Stephen…  Steve is good.”

 “Hi, Steve, please come with me.  How are you today?”

 “Fine… wait, no… I am not well. Thus my visit here today.”

 “Ha, ha.”

 I go into a little office with the nice lady, sit, answer questions. 

 “Your date of birth…?” 

 “March 24, 1948.  Don’t I look good?”

 “Ha, ha… Yes, actually, you do.”

 After more Q&A, and making the nice lady laugh, and blessing of the Holy Insurance Card, enter Nurse Evelyn. 

 “Hi Steve, please come with me.”


 There is gay banter with Nurse Evelyn on the way to a little exam room. We like Nurse Evelyn. More Q&A as blood pressure, temperature, and pulse are taken. Nurse Evelyn scowls, pleasantly, at my vitals.

 “So what’s the problem?” she asks. 

 Remove shirt. Show problem. Cover ears as Nurse Evelyn runs screaming from room (just kidding).

 “Ohh, that does look uncomfortable,” she says. “Have you had heart problems?”

 “I… what…?  I mean… no, not really… How is that rash-related?

 “Your heart rate is forty-eight beats per minute. Are you feeling alright? Light headed? Chest pain?”

 “No. I’m good.”

 “You should be checked out in the ER, your heart rate is a bit low.”

 “Well, I used to do a lot of aerobic exercise: swimming, biking and such.”

 “Yes…?  And how long since you last did that?”

 “Ohhh, maybe twenty years or so.”

 “Mmm, I see. Let’s take you to the ER for an EKG.”

 “But… my rash…?”

 “Don’t worry; we’ll make sure the ER doctor checks that out, too.”

 So, having come to the walk-in clinic for problem A, we are off to the ER for new problem B. Problem A deemed less important. This is one reason you should never go to the hospital. It’s always something else. I want to ask if I could die from this. But I recall that those were Andy Gibb’s last words upon his visit to the ER, and history has a penchant for repetition.

 Nurse Evelyn asks if I want to ride in a wheel chair. Really…?  I have to ask, she says. So off we go: Rosemary, Steve, and the affable Nurse E., all of us ambulatory. It’s a long walk around corners, into elevators, down corridors, all the while we share a few laughs and I think that Nurse Evelyn is really good at her job.

 We arrive at the ER where several people wait to be seen. Cold air rushes in through the double doors as EMT’s push a gurney back out to an ambulance, lights still flashing. Real emergencies here.

 The ER.  E for Emergency. Is this an emergency? The dermatologists were booked solid. My own doctor was not available. I wasn’t really suffering, just itching, bumpy, and red. Maybe hospitals need another room called the Overflow Room. The OR!  Not that. How about the EBR:  Everyone’s Busy Room. Not an emergency? Try the EBR.  But, then again, there is Problem B.

 Nurse Evelyn hands us off, and, after a brief wait, we check in. More laughs with the intake lady and her cohorts. I love making people laugh, and this is an easy crowd. I get a wrist band, and I joke that this is just like being admitted. They tell that I am indeed being admitted… to the ER.

 Another brief wait and Andy, an adolescent, calls me in to the EKG room. I did not know that middle schools had work study programs. Andy stickers me up while I ask him how many of these he does a day. Thirty-five to forty, he says. A serious production line. These guys should be paid piece work. Andy says to relax every muscle in my body. I do, and it’s over in a couple of minutes.

 Back out to the waiting room. Rosemary and I are called, along with a woman wearing an oxygen mask and a johnny, to follow a diminutive, efficient Asian nurse. The four of us parade single file to a single exam room. The johnny-clad woman goes left; we go to the right bed. A flimsy blue curtain separates us. This has the potential to be most awkward. I ruminate on the situation. It is more usual that patients brought here are unconscious, shot, run over, or otherwise unconcerned about who is on the other side of the flimsy curtain.

 At first Rosemary and I maintain a polite silence. But the poor girl next to us is really having a hard time breathing and we find it better to chat and create a little noise pollution so our neighbor can suffer in a semblance of privacy. This is why restaurants pipe in music. But why Year of the Cat at my sushi bar? Angular banjos sound good to me.

 I sit on the bed. Rosemary, now my health proxy sits in a chair. We wait.

 We were prepared for many hours of waiting. I brought materials to write letters. Rosemary brought her book. But, until now, there has been little waiting. I barely got one and a half letters written. Now it appears we will have a bit more time. I sit on the doctor’s stool and resume letter writing.

 Rosemary doesn’t need her book. We are in a busy ER. She loves listening to the goings on.  And she is good at it. In fact, Rosemary can filter out a single conversation five tables away in a noisy, music filled restaurant:

 “That couple is having a fight over there.”

 “No way! You cannot possibly…”

 “Shhh! I’m listening…”

 “You know I don’t like to be shushed.”

 “Sorry, please be quiet for a minute… Ohh, they’re breaking up!”

 “Oh, please…”

 All around us people are being examined and interviewed. Many of them are old and hard of hearing. The ER is child’s play for Ms. All Ears.

Thus occupied with letters and listening and chatting it up. We wait. The following sequence of health care providers enter and exit.  Each with their own, “How can I help”, and, “What brings you to the ER.”   Like this:


Enter:  Efficient Asian Nurse: Remove shirt, apply monitoring stickers. I was entertained by watching my vital signs on the screen, wishing my now ever so normal heart rate would skip a few beats, thus justifying my taking up all these health care resources.

“Now, put on this johnny,” she says. 

“Do I have to?”

“Yes, all the better to examine you.” I thought not, and took it off as soon as she left.


Enter:  Physician’s Assistant.  A handsome young man, but definitely over the age of consent, with his own Q&A: What? A rash. Where? Everywhere. Show me (here I must pull the curtain) When? Eight days ago, on the New Jersey turnpike, at 7:35 PMSo precise?  Rosemary does all the driving. After 12 hours in the car I had little to occupy me. What about your heart? Any pain? Discomfort? You mean this normal beating heart right here?  Yes. No. All good

Wait. (full disclosure here… I do take atenolol for P.A.C. (look it up) a common heart issue afflicting millions of people, non-lethal. I had stopped taking it four days before.

Enter:  Physician’s Assistant again. MOS (more of same)


Enter:  A doctor from New Jersey. MOS. Though he was amused about the New Jersey Turnpike. 

“I’m from New Jersey, that road has a lot of fumes. How’s your heart, previous problems?”

“I’m good. Though I do take atenolol for PAC. 

“I am looking at your EKG here,” he says. “It shows PVC.”

PVC. Also not a big deal, usually. “So, about that rash.”  Ahh, finally.

  “It looks like contact dermatitis to me. You’ll probably never know what caused it. It’s easily controlled with an anti-histamine and Prednisone.”

Great!   The pills were soon produced and administered. Prescriptions were written.

A few more visits from the PA and Efficient Nurse—also young, cute and charming (is that wrong?)—and, with appropriate waiting between each visit, we are free to go.

After paying our $100 co-pay, I took Rosemary to The Greek Corner in Cambridge. A restaurant featured on Drive-Ins, Diners, and Dives.  Rosemary got the address by going out to the ER admitting desk and asking if they could help her find it. Computer consoles were manned, Internet searches were done and voila! This was, of course, between emergency admittances. But, could you ask for more from your ER?

The food was great. Rosemary was happy. Life is good.

So that was my visit to the walk-in clinic at Mount Auburn Hospital. All in all a positive experience. You will never hear me complain about medical care in the Boston area. Maybe a bit of overkill. However, the PA had scheduled a blood work-up that the doctor cancelled, saying he thought we might want to get out of there, and he didn’t feel it really necessary. So someone is watching the store.

I am feeling better, too. Not sure if that is good. I went on the internet and checked out the side effects of Prednisone. There are about fifty of them, none pleasant. Two stood out: A Rash, and Itching. Ahhhm… Hello?

But here’s the best one:  Inappropriate Happiness.  I feel good. Na na na na na na na.


Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium. He is a concert guitarist and composer with several CDs in release.  Find all at and even more of Steve at  Email :

The Meaning of Christmas & Gift Guide

The Meaning of Christmas         by Steve Rapson

The spirit of Christmas is love. Love of family. Love of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birthday we are celebrating. Christmas gifts symbolize the gifts Jesus received.

What we want for Christmas is what we want all the time. Christmas is just when we hope we get it. We want to love and to be loved. To settle differences. Resolve anew to seek the good and the beautiful in our loved ones and in ourselves.

As children, the fun of Christmas is the gifts: magical materialization of childhood fantasies. As adults our fantasies change. We want love. Christmas gifts are how we say it. Because saying it is risky. “You go first. Then me. Meanwhile, here’s a little gift.”

Saying it is the best gift of all. If you love them tell them. Tell them in writing. Be specific. “I love you because…” Never mind any, “I love you in spite of…”  It’s Christmas. If you think they are great, if you think they did great, if you are proud of them, then tell them. Write it down, wrap it up, and give it to them for Christmas.

If this is too risky for you right now, you could buy a card that expresses your feelings. Write on that card anything else you can add. Your name will do for starters. Present it all wrapped up. Make it as important as you feel it. They’ll get the message. This way you can practice all year long: birthdays, holidays, Ground Hog Day, any excuse will work. By next Christmas you’ll have it down.

Meanwhile, here is a helpful guide for conventional gift giving.

It’s a Christmas gift if, and only if:

1.  It is edible. Food for the body. The more frivolously comestible the better. The main bene­fit being it won’t hang around cluttering up the house.

2.  It is readable. Food for the mind and spirit. The Far Side, The Dead Sea Scrolls, Gone With the Wind, National Geographic, MAD Magazine. After reading it can be passed on.  Observing the anti-clutter rule.

3.  It is listenable. Music is the language of love. Poetry. Books-on-tape. Also recyclable.

These rules do not apply to those twelve and under—or fourteen or sixteen—pick your own cut-off age. Material Christmas is for kids. Use the money you saved on your grown-up loved ones—soon to learn how loved they are—to materialize the fantasy world of every child you know. For my loved ones, here’s my Christmas list:

1.  A card. Eloquent professions of my good qualifies in your own handwriting are best.

2.  Chocolate. The expensive kind. Not too many creme centers.

3.  Books or music. No Schopenhauer.  No heavy metal.

To love and be loved…  That’s the meaning of Christmas, Charlie Brown.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.


Steve Rapson is the author of  The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium.  A concert guitarist and songwriter, Steve has released several CD’s. The first of which was Christmas Guitar

Stage Fright — Q&A by Steve Rapson

Dear Steve,

My name is Kristen and I have severe stage fright. I can sing alone just fine, anything actually. But when I’m in front of people, I freeze and turn bright red. Also, no one has ever told me I have an “incredible voice” or anything like that. I do believe that I have a really good voice and I eventually want to go into the music biz. I can’t even sing in front of my best friend of 8 years. I’m afraid she’ll laugh at me or snigger and say that I suck or something. If you could give me some advice, or help me in some way that would be great.

Thanks again, Kristen.

Dear Kristen:

Stage fright is the same as stage excitement. It is that feeling of being “up” and ready to do your best. It is a good thing. Many performers become flushed when they perform at their peak. They may sweat profusely and turn beet red. This happens when blood vessels dilate. It is the brain preparing you to do your best. All this is caused by the release of adrenaline. It is the “fight or flight” response. You want this to happen and then take action. Debilitating stage fright occurs when you neither fight nor flee. You grind in place taking no action while the engine races in high gear. Cars don’t like this; your mind/body doesn’t either.

Experienced performers have learned that this elevated feeling is natural and something good to be used in their act. They have learned to control and use it. Beginners call it stage fright. It often gets out of control and prevents them from doing what they have prepared to do.

So what needs to change is not your physical responses when you are about to perform, but your thoughts about them. Just as your body can be trained to go through certain motions automatically through repetition of the same action–called practice–you can train your mind to think the right things when these changes happen.

The cure for stage fright is practice. Mozart said, “Slow practice makes for fast playing.” Slow practice is meditation for the body. To help your mind you might try meditation.

Here are some thoughts to meditate on. Meditation is to the mind what physical practice is to the body.

1. If you are afraid of what people might think of you, be assured they are not thinking of you. They are thinking of themselves.

2. If you are afraid you will make a mistake, be assured no one will notice you made a mistake unless you tell them or show them through body language that says you are not happy with your performance. They won’t notice because they are too busy thinking their own thoughts which are about themselves.

3. If you are afraid of the criticism of others, be assured that when you are criticized–rarely will this happen–the information you receive is about the speaker and not about you. As the saying goes, “What people say about others reveals more of themselves than about others.” This goes for critics as well.

4. If you receive praise from others, be assured that it is as meaningless as criticism. It is not good to let either enter that quiet place in your mind where you know the truth of all things.

5. All greatness is built upon humility. A humble soul is the foundation for great acts. So when you are filled with self doubt, when you think your best is not good enough, when you do everything right and it stills looks wrong, you are being given humility. True humility is hard to come by. The proper response for such a great gift is gratitude.

6. All performing is about and for the audience. Even an audience of one. Although our performance seems to say, “See me, hear me, touch me,” all great performers turn this around and send the message, “I see you, I hear you, I touch you.” This is the irony and the catch-22 of show business. The humble soul can do it. The fearful soul cannot. Fear is about you. Love and acceptance is about them. Fear wants to push away. Love and acceptance wants to take in. The love is for them; the acceptance is for yourself.

As you meditate on these things, breathe deeply and slowly. Do this for a half hour every day. Fifteen minutes in the morning and another fifteen at night.

If you are a singer, take lessons and do the exercises that will strengthen your singing muscles.

If you do all these things you will be surprised–and humbled we hope–at the results. But you may not notice your success because you will be thinking of others.

I recommend my book, The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium

Good luck, Kristen.


PS: To answer your question… You will never really know for sure if you are good enough. After many years of singing you could look back and say, “Well, I guess I was good enough.” But that’s another story.


Steve Rapson is an author, songwriter and solo guitarist with one book published and several CD’s released.  All available at


The Lecture

The Lecture

According to Mortimer Adler, there are three types of speech: The Sales Talk (also called a Motivational Speech), The Impromptu Talk, and The Lecture. Here I will share some elements required to give an effective Instructional Talk:  A Lecture.  I will try to avoid lecturing.

Lectures and lecturing have earned a bad reputation. Speakers of all types have done their share to attach negative baggage to the noble lecture. Children instinctively abhor the parental lecture. Students cut classes taught by boring professors. Those professors attach a disproportionate percentage of their course grade to attendance—so much easier than being interesting.

Adults sneer at windy speeches by politicians and mind-numbing rationales by bureaucrats.

Boring speakers are not a modem phenomenon. Ancient Greeks considered the lecture, including written discourse, to be the noblest of the three ways we learn. (Apprenticeship and experience are the other two.) Oratory skill made lessons palatable and effective. Thus it was important to speak well to your fellow citizens. Those that did not were avoided and never heard.

Early in my career I assisted a VP with his presentation. It was an international marketing summary, and may even have been interesting. The VP had prepared overhead charts. Each was dense with paragraphs of small type. These he would read verbatim. My job was to sit at the projector and flip the charts. Rehearsal was excruciating: ponderously slow, irredeemably dull.

I was sure this man needed my guidance. Since I was fresh from my media course at the Boston University School of Communications, I knew just what to advise him.

“You know, Mr. VP,” I said. “When you read every word to the audience like that, they read it along with you and are done long before you are. This will make it very boring  for them. Maybe you should paraphrase each chart so you finish together. Or better, make new charts with less words.”

He looked at me a long time before speaking.

Finally he said, “Young man, I have been doing presentations this way for twenty-five years and have never had a complaint. I’ll thank you to turn the charts as I direct.”

His attitude was typical. Business people in particular are notorious for eye-glazing talks. Often this is because they are presenting financial data to superiors. A misstep is feared far more than being dull. Their punishment, when they become the superiors, is to sit through similar dreadful presentations. The cycle of boredom is unbroken.

In 1982 a Divisional President was scheduled to speak to Gillette’s Board of Directors about new product successes. It was a fluff bit where he could have loosened up a little. He called in a speech consultant to help him prepare. I ran the support equipment, thus was the fly on the wall. Some of what is in this book I learned from working with this consultant over several years.

He got the full treatment: Don’t grip the lectern with both hands as if holding yourself up. Smile occasionally. Take a step away from the lectern occasionally. Pause, look up and then say a line a two right to the audience before looking down again,

After a few hours of struggle he told the coach, “Look, I know your suggestions are good. And I wish I could do them, but I am not comfortable with them. I have never addressed the Board of Directors and may never again. I have to get through it the safest way.”

This division President was a likeable guy. Relaxed and charming in front of factory workers. He was safe in the factory, less so in the boardroom.

Safe meant a speech written and re-written, approved and re-approved up the line: in a multi-national company it is amazing how many people are above a division president. Safe meant reading the speech word for word with no divergence from the prepared text.

There is a skill to writing material meant to be read. Still another skill to reading it as if you were not really reading it. Actors, news anchors, and very few business people posses those skills. The division president had neither.  This became apparent during his competent but lifeless rendition of his speech to the Board of Directors. I was Mr. Fly there, too.  A lively moment erupted, however, when a grey-haired female board member voiced a complaint.  She objected to the marketing plan that targeted, “women 18-49.”

“Isn’t this a kind of discrimination?” She asked. ” I mean, don’t fifty-five year old women buy our products, too?” Her question was valid but somewhat naive in the board room of a Fortune 50 company. Mr. President was speechless. Silence ruled the room for a seconds just as he had been coached to do.  However accidental it might have been.

With nothing in his speech on this topic he looked up at the woman, making eye contact.  Another good thing. Then he smiled, as he was mildly amused and could not hide it. Smiling made him look relaxed and friendly. He stepped away from the lectern as he answered. He gestured naturally with both hands. No longer clutching the lectern with head down, he became himself. He spoke naturally:

“I understand what you mean,” he said. “This age group thing is primarily a marketing convention designed to help measure the performance of our TV advertising. We want to know if we are we getting the audience we paid for, the one our research says buy most of our products. Of course woman of all ages do indeed purchase our products and are an important contributor to sales and profits.”

Here was a man in command of his subject and the room.

The effect was compelling. No one becomes a president of major corporate division without packing some heavy gear, some internal resources. When he was called upon to summon those skills, he succeeded in notching up the interest level in the room several degrees.

The director persisted in her questioning. This drew in other corporate officers for a lively round-table discussion on the topic. The president ­moderated, a bit baffled, but handled it all with grace, humor, and expertise. For brief moment it was an entertaining and informative meeting. Dozing board members were startled from their slumber. They needn’t have worried. The speaker soon returned to hunch and clutch, to read in monotone as slides flashed prettily on the screen. Board members settled back in their comfy leather chairs as the gentle drone from the front of the room lulled them peacefully to sleep. A cloak of boredom and safety fell over all.

This speaker did not trust himself to be at his best under pressure. He subdued the better part of his personality to his detriment. He did this because believed what he had to say was more important than how he said it. They are equally important. Diminishment of either induces the audiences to tune you out.

I do not suggest that formality and structure be abandoned in speech making. But I often see business and political speakers ignore their audience as they prepare a speech. They think: How will I be perceived? What mistakes might I make? How can I control the situation? I… I… I… Me… Me… Me… They should be thinking, You… You… You.

Preparation and commitment = A memorable lecture.

In 1985 the Assistant Under Secretary for National Economic Affairs (or some such title) gave a speech to Boston business people. A tall, lanky, Kramer-like man, he was bounding  about, talking a mile a minute and scribbling furiously on a blackboard. It was all about arcane financial models, macro this, micro that. It was highly technical, but he had the crowd riveted, myself included, though I grasped only a little of his logic.

He was over most of our heads and we loved it. Afterwards, I spoke with him about how fascinating but hard to get it was. “Yeah,” he said, “Sort of like drinking from a fire hose, isn’t it.” He knew he was ahead of his audience, but his commitment and enthusiasm for his topic was what grabbed us and is what I remember most.

In 1967, Professor Emerson taught Introduction to Anthropology at the University of Maine in Orono. His classes were held in the largest lecture hall on campus. But it was not large enough for the SRO crowds that attended. The University registrar did not over-enroll Professor Emerson’s class. Non-anthropology students gave up down time at The Bear’s Den to slip into the back of the room and hear a great lecturer hold forth on the fascinating anthropological record of pre-human primates and the development of culture in early man. It was my first class so I always got there early for a front row seat.

Professor Emerson loved his subject and we knew it because he let us see his commitment. The cold lecture hall seemed transformed into a warm living room because he was so at ease there. (It may also have been the three hundred human bodies each generating ninety-eight watts of heat, which is two percent less than a light bulb because bodies don’t give off any light energy. Well, perhaps an inner light, but there is no evidence inner radiance has a photonic composition… but I digress.)

Emerson found the humor in his topic and injected it often. However, there was never a laugh that was not directly related to the topic of the day. He was serious about his subject. He didn’t tell jokes. He revealed the facts in an amusing way. He couldn’t always make it funny, but he always made it interesting.

He spoke from notes, but he spoke directly to us. He would take great pauses as he looked down at his notes. When he looked up, he would pause another second, look around and then speak right to us for a while, then back to the notes. (This is a technique called Command the Silence). There was a relaxed, assured rhythm to his presentation that I now know comes from a thorough knowledge of the subject paired with a disciplined preparation. Emerson often included interesting asides and commentary that seemed spontaneous, but were not. They came from years of experience teaching his subject. He had an act and it was well-honed

He knew considerably more about Peking Man than he was telling us, and he planned in advance what he would leave out. He knew a lecture on the contents of pre-historic fire pits could be dull. He made sure it wasn’t. Thirty-two years later I remember, verbatim, large swaths of what Professor Emerson taught me.

These two anecdotes demonstrate even the least sexy topics come alive when rules of good platform speech are applied. The Under Secretary and the Professor were fully prepared, obviously committed, totally relaxed, and above all, interesting.

In addition to considering the needs of your audience, here are some suggestions for a sparkling lecture:

Bad lecturers use long sentences.

Your sentences will be short. Your words will be simple. You will avoid the passive and conditional voice: verbs with an ing at the end and phrases like, there is, could be drawn, or it is to be hoped.

Bad lecturers are long on ideas and short on examples.

You will leap from example to story in a single bound. You will tell stories and give examples till the cows come home.

Bad lecturers drone on because there is so much to say and so little time.

You, the good lecturer, will look for every opportunity to let silence spread over the room. You will ask questions of the audience. You will wait a long time for an answer. You will command the silence.

Bad lecturers, on the rare occasion they attempt humor, advertise that a laugh is coming.

Their body language and facial expressions scream, “Here comes that funny line I have been working so hard to deliver riiii-ght… HERE!” Everybody sees it coming. Nobody is surprised; few are amused.

You will never do that. You will be a sneaky bastard. You will frown in advance of the laugh. You will lower your voice on the punch line. When the audience laughs you will stop speaking, surprised that something funny happened. If they do not laugh, your stoic demeanor will save you from being the only person in the room with a grin on his face.

Bad lecturers surprise in one way: The end, differing in no way from the rest of the speech, catches the audience blinking in surprise.

This is not you. They don’t call it the climax for nothing. You are going to let them know it is coming. You are going to increase your volume and emotional commitment. You are going to go out fast and strong. You will have something saved for the end that will make them glad they stayed to hear it.

Bad lecturers do not listen.

You listen so that you will be in tune your audience and simpatico with how they are feeling. You will check in on them with a question, the answer for which you will wait.

Bad lecturers run overtime.

You will be done before they expect it. If asked to give a thirty-minute speech, you will prepare a twenty-minute speech, or a fifteen-minute speech. Voltaire said, “Woe to the author determined to teach. The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.” A good lecturer leaves material out, and saves something for later.

Your reward for being an uncommonly good lecturer is threefold.

First, your audience will be attentive throughout, and happily surprised at the end.

Second, there is time for Q&A. If you know your subject, and the audience has an interest, Q&A is always better than a lecture. Q&A is your encore.  And you still have some material you saved.

Third, because of your brevity and focus they may remember what you said and tell others. Word of mouth is the way important messages are always carried for all time.

There is the tale of a murder in London at midnight. Two witnesses happen on the scene. Fifteen minutes later, they each tell two others who similarly tell two others, and so on. If this continues, everyone on earth will know of it by morning.


Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium.  He is a songwriter and concert guitarist with several CD’s in release.

How To Make A Toast by Steve Rapson

How To Make A Toast

 It gives me great pleasure. — G. B. Shaw

 George Bernard Shaw offered this toast during a fashionable English dinner party. Back then, it was customary for the host to appoint the toaster as well as supply the subject. Sex was the subject. Since sex was unmentionable in polite society at the turn of the century, this was an amusing attempt to tongue-tie Shaw and quash his legendary wit. The ruse failed as his clever toast lives on a hundred years later.

Toasting is as old as literature. Ulysses drank to the health of Achilles in the Odyssey. In Caesar’s Rome, drinking  to another’s health became so important that the Senate decreed that all diners must drink to Caesar at every meal.

Ancient Greeks toasted the health of friends to assure them the wine was not poisoned since poisoning wine was a common means of dispatching an enemy. Thus it became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine from a common pitcher, drink it before his guests, and raise his glass for his friends to do likewise.

The term toast comes from the Roman practice of dropping a piece of burnt bread into the wine.  This was done to temper bad wine. A thousand years later, Falstaff said, “…put toast in’t,” when requesting a jug of wine in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. Charcoal reduces the acidity of slightly off wines. Latin tostus, meaning roasted or parched, came to refer to the act and the drink.

The first recorded toast in England was in 450 AD at a feast given by the British King Vortigem for his Saxon allies. Rowena, the beautiful daughter of the Saxon leader Hengist, held up a large goblet and drank to the king, saying, “Louerd King, waes hael!” “Lord King, be of health!” He replied, “Drink hael!” The evening ended with Rowena and Vortigern married. For a thousand years, drinking in Britain was accompanied with the same exchange, although waes hael became wassail.

Northern Europeans drank mead or ale from the skull of a fallen enemy. As did the Scots and Scandinavians. Highland Scottish “skiel” (tub) and the Norse “skoal” (bowl) derive from it.

In the 1700’s, partygoers toasted the health of absent celebrities, especially beautiful women. In this way a woman became the toast of the town. By the 1800’s, toasting was the proper thing to do. A British duke wrote in 1803 that “…every glass during dinner had to be dedicated to someone,’ and to refrain from toasting was considered ‘sottish and rude as if no one present was worth drinking to.’ It was an insult to refrain from toasting a dinner guest, as the duke wrote, “—a piece of direct contempt”.

Today toasting is less formal, and the worse for it. It was a rare moment when I saw a well done toast. I was the leader and MC of a general business orchestra. We played at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs. graduation parties, anniversaries, Christmas parties, clam bakes, frat parties, proms, and at gatherings with no special purpose save fun and games. At each gig, toasts were offered, some willingly and lovingly, some under obligation, some under the influence. I have seen over two thousand toasts offered. I regret to say we are not doing well in the toasting department.

At weddings, unprepared best men offered most of the ineffective, inappropriate toasts. Most were self-conscious and ill at ease. For a day that is so minutely planned otherwise this should not happen. The solution is to make sure that the young man understands his responsibility to the groom, and someone provides guidance if needed. A copy of this article, for example. But business people, professors, and woozy after-dinner hosts have all missed their opportunity to be their best—to say and do the right thing, and honor themselves and their guests.

A toast is a mini speech. To be effective, the same rules apply as for a big speech. If you find it painful to stand in front of a group of people all looking at you—and you cannot get out of doing the toast—then do the following:

Write and memorize your two-line toast, For example: “To Bill and Mindy… health and happiness. Cheers.” Or choose a toast from the many offered at the end of this article. Modify it to fit your special occasion. This is permitted and encouraged.

Then practice.

Practice at home.

Practice standing up, standing tall, and standing still.

Practice picking up the glass.

Practice holding the microphone, if there is one.

Practice looking at the person who is being toasted.

Practice looking at the assembled guests.

Practice taking three deep breaths before you speak.

Practice speaking in a firm clear voice.

Practice, Practice, Practice. Winston Churchill, one of the greatest speakers of the 20th Century, said that for each minute of speech one must practice for an hour. Your practice to performance ratio may be greater.

A bit of toast etiquette to keep in mind:

Don’t toast the guest of honor until after the host does. If it appears that the host will not offer a toast, quietly request the host’s indulgence to do so yourself.

Stand when offering a toast unless it is a small, informal group. Standing will get the attention of the group and quiet them down.

Don’t tap on your glass. It is considered slightly gauche in some circles.

Hold your glass up and wait for quiet. You might say, “A toast… ” to encourage attention.

If an appointed toaster is reluctant, don’t insist. They may be unprepared or uncomfortable with impromptu remarks.

Never refuse to participate in a toast. It is more polite and perfectly acceptable to participate with a non-alcoholic beverage or even an empty glass than not at all. My mother, bless her heart, once refused to toast to my glass of water. “I never toast to water,” she declared. It is an old custom and one best not adhered to so publicly.

If you honor your duty as a toast giver, you not only honor yourself and the toastee(s), you show respect for everyone who hears your words.


Toasts for all Occasions

Toasts of Caution

St Patrick was a gentleman

Who through strategy and stealth

Drove all the snakes from Ireland,

Here’s a toasting to his health;

But not too many toastings

Lest you lose yourself and then

Forget the good St Patrick

And see all those snakes again.


First the man takes a drink.

Then the drink takes a drink.

Then the drink takes the man.

Dzulkifli Abdul Razak

Wine Toasts

To temperance… in moderation.

Lem Motlow

I’d rather have a bottle in front of me

Than a frontal lobotomy.

(Various: Dorothy Parker, Carlton Berenda)


May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances,

And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares.


A warm toast, good company.

A fine wine. May you enjoy all three.


Give me wine to wash me clean

From the weather-stains of care.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let us have wine and women

Mirth and laughter,

Sermons and soda-water the day after

Lord Byron

Wine  and Women…

May we always have a taste for both.

Birthday Toasts


Many happy returns of the day of your birth;

Many blessings to brighten your pathway on earth;

Many friendships to cheer and provoke you to mirth:

Many feastings and frolics to add to your girth.

Robert H. Lord

To wish you joy on your birthday

And all the whole year through,

For all the best that life can hold

Is none too good for you


May he/she grow twice as tall as yourself and half as wise.


A lovely being scarcely formed or molded,

A rose with all its sweetest leaves yet folded

Lord Byron

A new life begun,

Like father, like son.

Like one, like the other,

Like daughter, like mother.

Every baby born into the world

Is a finer one than the last.


Toasts to the Enemy

Here’s to short shoes and long corns to our enemies.


May the devil cut the toes off all our foes,

That we may know them by their limping.


Cause of Death: Life.


May we all come to peaceful ends,

And leave our debts unto our friends.


May you be in Heaven five minutes before the Devil knows you are dead.


General Toasts

I drink to the general joy of the whole table.


 Cheers, no tears!


Ad multos annos–to many years!


May the path to Hell grow green for the lack of travelers.


May you get lost on the road to Hell

And stop in Heaven to ask directions


May you live as long as you want

And may you never want as long as you live.


May you live all the years of your life.

Jonathan Swift

May the road rise to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back,

The sunshine warm upon your face,

The rain fall soft upon your fields,

And until we meet again

May God hold you in the hollow of his hand.


May the best you’ve ever seen

Be the worst you’ll ever see.


Here’s to beauty, wit, and wine,

And to a full stomach, a full purse, and a light heart.


I drink to the days that are.


Here’s to you,

And here’s to me.

Friends forever we shall be,

But—if we should ever disagree,

The hell with you

Here’s to me!


Here’s to you as good as you are.

Here’s to me as bad as I am.

As bad as I am, as good as you are,

I’m as good as you are as bad as I am.


Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and a good drink to give them.


Here’s to Eternity

May we spend it in as good company as this night finds us.


Here’s to friendship;

May it be reckoned

Long as a lifetime,

Close as a second.


Here’s to you who halves my sorrows and doubles my joys.


May the friends of our youth be the companions of our old age.


May the hinges of friendship never rust, nor the wings of love lose a feather.


Old wood to burn,

Old books to read,

Old wine to drink,

Old friends to trust.


Here’s to true friends:

They know you well and like you just the same.


A speedy calm to the storms of life.


Everybody in life gets the same amount of ice.

The rich get it in the summer and the poor in the winter

Here’s a health to poverty; it sticks by us when our friends forsake us.


Here’s to thee my honest friend,

Wishing these hard time to mend.


It is best to rise from life as from the banquet,

Neither thirsty nor drunken.


Love to one, friendship to many,

And good will to all.


May our faults be written on the seashore,

And every good action prove a wave to wash them out.


May the most you wish for be the least you get.


Here’s hoping that you live forever

And mine is the last voice you hear.

Willard Scott

Love Toasts

One drink is good.

Two at the most.

Three under the table.

Four under the host.


To our wives and sweethearts.

May they never meet.


Here’s to love and unity,

Dark corners and opportunity.


Here’s to the land we love and the love we land.


Here’s to the water,

Wishing it were wine

Here’s to you, my darling,

Wishing you were mine.


Hogamus Higamus

Men are Polygamous

Higamus, Hogamus

Women, Monogamous


Anniversary & Wedding Toasts

To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with.

Mark Twain

Here’s to you both, a beautiful pair,

On the birthday of your love affair.


A toast to love and laughter and happily ever after.


Let anniversaries come and let anniversaries go—

But may your happiness continue on forever.


May the warmth of our affections

Survive the frosts of age.


To your coming anniversaries

May they be outnumbered only by your coming pleasures.


Don’t make love by the garden gate.

Love is blind but the neighbors ain’t!


The man or woman you really love will never grow old to you.

Through the wrinkles of time, through the bowed frame of years,

You will always see the dear face and feel the

Warm heart union of your eternal love.

Alfred A. Montapert

Happy marriages begin when we marry the one we love,

And they blossom when we love the one we married.

Sam Levenson

 Health and Happiness!


May their joys be as bright as the morning,

And their sorrows but shadows that fade.

May their joys be as deep as the ocean

And their misfortunes as light as the foam.


To Marriage: A community consisting of a master,

A mistress, and two slaves

Making in all, two.


May you grow old on one pillow.


Grow old with me!

The best is yet to be,

The last of life,

For which, the first is made.

Robert Browning

Love does not consist in gazing at each other,

But in looking outward in the same direction.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

To my wife, my bride and joy.


May we all be present at their Golden Wedding  Anniversary.


May the saddest days of your future,

be only as sad as the happiest days of your past.

Who You Gonna Call? by Steve Rapson

 Dear Soloperformer:

 I’ve been reading your site for some time. I own the PA and SR copyrights on my CD’s.  I’ve played for years around the country, networking to cities that are in reach. The one thing no one has ever told me is to whom I might send my music that would give it a serious listen and perhaps promote it.  There are plenty of guides on what to do, but not on whom to ask.

 Thanks for any advice you might have.



Dear Jim:

It is a myth or at least a misapprehension among new authors, songwriters, and poets that there are people in the music and publishing business whose job it is to listen to or read their work with an eye to picking the best and packaging it for sale.

There is no one like that. The music business does have systems in place for sourcing new songs and singers and writers. Those systems are constructed to prevent the great unwashed from ever getting in the door. If you want to be heard, if you want a shot at a fair consideration of your work, then you must enter the system and play by its rules. The rules are the same for any business:

 1. Know your product.

 2. Know your customer.

 3. See a lot of people and ask all to buy.

 I do not mean to be glib. I mean to be accurate and brief.

Consider Proctor and Gamble, the world’s largest maker of soap. They are always developing new soap brands and they have an R&D department that occasionally finds a new wrinkle in soap. From time to time an outside inventor believes he has a new idea about soap and will contact P&G to ask who he should present his new soap idea to. P&G’s response goes something like this:

Dear Soap Inventor:

My secretary/assistant has informed me that you have sent an idea about a new soap. We appreciate your interest, however I cannot consider or even read your letter. Our R&D department has many products and new formulations that may or may not be similar to yours. Therefore, to avoid patent infringement issues, we must return your letter unread.

Thank you for your interest.

I worked for Gillette/P&G for many years and I wrote several of these letters.

Selling music is not much different than selling soap. The consumer of these products may see a qualitative difference, but the business end does not. The analogy breaks down only in that there are very few people with a burning desire to bring a new soap to market, but there are millions with a new song ready to be heard.

A crowded supply side makes for a system that builds walls around itself just to keep the hordes at bay in order to do day to day business. If you want to sell your songs you must know what you are selling, to whom you are selling it, and why they might find it of value. To get a chance to pitch you need to have contacts, a network, that you have built over time that allows you entrance into the system.

You are right in that how-to books have little to say on who to send material to–there is no one as explained above–however, here are some resources that might help you get your songs heard:



  The Songwriters Market — which actually does purport to tell you who to send your songs to. 

  Caveat Emptor! 

Here is what one unhappy reviewer said:

…Save your money, buy a ticket to Nashville, make appointments with real people. I will never waste  money and false hopes on this junk again.”


 Jason Blume’s, 6 Steps to Songwriting Success

 Mr. Blume knows whereof he speaks.

I have met and worked on my songwriting with Jason Blume.

I recommend his book and his website.

  And of course once you get heard, you’ll want to deliver your best performance, so I recommend my book:

  The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium

  Here I will quote my friend Sam Bayer about my book, “Rapson, I agree with everything in your book… I just don’t want to do all that work”

If it was easy, even more people would be doing this. I guess we should be thankful it is not too easy.

Because there are so many of us wishing to be heard, legitimate businesses have cropped up that will take our money in exchange for that opportunity. In the old days, these people were called song-sharks. They were not concerned with actually delivering on the promise of making you or your song a star. They charged hundreds or even thousands of dollars with the empty promise of doing that. Their pitch was believable because it did indeed cost a lot of money to get a demo made, and time and connections it to the right people.

But now it is easy and cheap to make a demo. And contact to the world is an email away. So the song-shark business model has become a bit more honorable, if still little better than a lottery ticket. For a few hundred dollars you can join, or for example, and submit your material for review.  These people act as middlemen to the music, advertising and movie industry who are always looking for artists and songs. It is still a crap shoot. But at least it’s on the up and up. Similarly, song writing and singing contests abound. They are in business to make money from all of us. It’s a game, and it doesn’t cost much to play. But it is not the real music business where artists are found and developed. Even though, now and then, a few are.

For every rule there is an exception, someone who steps outside the system and finds a way in that is contrary to the way business is normally done. These are the stories that are fun to tell and thus are the ones we often hear. A few are; Donna Summer singing in the toilets as a cleaning women and being heard by a producer who makes her a star. Teen-aged Diane Warren getting a job as a clerk in a music company in order to slip her tapes to anyone important who walked in the door. I slipped Johnny Cash’s limo driver a tape during a snow storm in Boston. He ignored me at first until I said, “Look at me, I’m old, I don’t have much more time!” He laughed and rolled down his window and took the tape, assuring me he would hand it to Mr. Cash that night. I followed up with the Cash organization but nothing came of it. The song is still a good one and perhaps I should do more limo stalking.

Good luck in finding your way through the music business maze.


Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the Soloperformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium. He is a songwriter and concert guitarist with several CD’s in release.

The Impromptu Talk by Steve Rapson

There are three types of talks: Mortimer Adler identifies them as The Impromptu Talk, The Sales Talk, and The Lecture.  I analyzed Shakespeare’s We Happy Few as a great sales (motivational) talk.  Now, for your amusement and edification, I’ll dissect the Impromptu Talk

An impromptu talk is informal, often unrehearsed, and brief. It could be a toast, a few words from the boss, a bowling trophy acceptance speech. It’s the kind of talk we all make once in a while. And it’s the kind of talk most of us try to avoid, and often wish others would avoid. It does not inform or instruct. It does not intend to persuade or motivate. Its purpose is mainly social. If it is entertaining, all the better.

If the speech you are about to give is truly impromptu, then you may not know the subject you are going to speak on until a few minutes beforehand. If you are forewarned, it’s called an extemporaneous talk. It may look impromptu, but you are forearmed and prepared sufficiently speak off the cuff.  Like Mark Twain.

Mark Twain, America’s great storyteller, was afflicted with stage fright early in his career. He survived his first appearance and went on to successfully command the stage for fifty years.

Twain’s writing is classic literature. His speaking skills we cannot know directly. However, he was a legend at a time when public speakers were the poor man’s theatre. Twain sold out where ever he went. He made them laugh. He made them cry. His talks often appeared impromptu and casual, as does this one given on the occasion of his daughter’s singing debut. He attended her recital and afterwards addressed the audience about his own stage debut.

This speech, Mark Twain’s First Appearance, was given on October 5, 1906. The speech is barely five minutes long, but a lifetime of preparation and experience created a piece that is timely and entertaining a hundred years later.

Mark Twain’s First Appearance

My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. By a direct process of memory I go back forty years, less one month—for I’m older than I look.

I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter. And I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn’t know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage fright—and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too. It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I—was—sick. I was so sick that there wasn’t any left for those other two hundred passengers.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive.

I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down—I was young in those days and needed the exercise—and talked and talked.

Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part, which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it, they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the governor’s wife was—you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I knew if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.

Mark Twain’s little talk is so flawlessly constructed one can hardly notice he has used several devices, “tricks” if you will, to engage the audience, keep their attention, and win them over. He avoids common speech-making errors we all are prone to.

You might think it was easy for Mark Twain, an American literary and platform legend in the autumn of his years to win over an audience. But I think you will agree he did not need his fame to succeed with this speech. If this were our talk to give, you or I could have done nearly as well with a little practice. Great words make for a great speech. A great speech starts with preparation: research, writing, re-writing, and practice.

We’ll analyze the speech see what makes it great.

First, he opens with a reference to someone other than himself, gets to his topic immediately, and ends with a mild self-deprecating quip designed to get a quick laugh. It’s all done in forty words.

My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. By a direct process of memory I go back forty years, less one month—for I’m older than I look.

He follows this tight intro with nuts and bolts material. Who, What, Where, & When. Each sentence is dense with information, and could have served as the topic sentence for a paragraph devoted to it. This is the way pros move things along. They provide information that creates a feeling of, “Interesting, tell me more…” in the listener. What is left unsaid is as important as what is said. Similarly in music it’s the note you don’t play that contributes to the appeal of a piece. People don’t like it when someone drones on in excruciating detail that numbs them into dull submission and inattention. Twain avoids over explaining.

I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theatre. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theatre 45 minutes before the hour set for the lecture. My knees were shaking so that I didn’t know whether I could stand up. If there is an awful, horrible malady in the world, it is stage fright—and seasickness. They are a pair. I had stage fright then for the first and last time. I was only seasick once, too.

Using a kind of simile, he pairs seasickness and stage fright. It is a common speech device. Early filmmakers applied it as well. They found that if they followed scene one with any scene two, the audience would connect them no matter how unrelated. Our brains automatically create order out of randomness. Twain connects stage fright and seasickness by saying he suffered both only once. He does this to set up a gag:

It was on a little ship on which there were two hundred other passengers. I—was—sick. I was so sick that there wasn’t any left for those other two hundred passengers.

He gets a laugh with an anecdote he probably has included in hundreds of speeches on as many subjects. In about a minute, Twain has gotten two laughs, endeared himself to the crowd, and shown himself to be humble and as susceptible to the trials of living as anyone. Having won them over with his ethos, he proceeds with the story.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive.

Once again, the story moves quickly. He uses short declarative sentences, a trademark of good storytellers. The plot thickens.

I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big dubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor.

Next, Twain plants the seed for a classic comedic technique: The callback.

Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

For a callback to work time must elapse, he continues:

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down—I was young in those days and needed the exercise—and talked and talked.

Here’s the set-up for the call back

Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part, which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it, they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them.

Now comes the call back or pay-off. Twain avoids beating them over the head with it. He talks up to his audience, presuming they are with him.

Then I happened to glance up at the box where the governor’s wife was—you know what happened.

Twain wraps up with a three-line summary, offers sincere thanks, and leaves them laughing with a nicely structured gag: the laugh cannot occur until his final word.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.

Here are the keys to Mark Twain’s impromptu speech:

 The Intro

•  Acknowledge the audience.

•  Say specifically, briefly, what you are talking about.

•  Make them laugh.

 The Middle

•  Move it along.

•  Leave things out. Do not explain everything.

•  Use rhetorical devices:  examples, compare & contrast, self- deprecating humor, callbacks, similes.

The End

•  Say it again in as few lines as you can.

•  Say thanks.

•  Make them laugh.

The key to an effective impromptu talk is that is it is not really impromptu. Very few people can speak “off the cuff” effectively. The phrase “off the cuff” refers to the notes one would scribble on a sleeve when called at the last minute to speak before a group.

I have been called upon to speak at the last minute, and I did indeed write notes on a napkin minutes before getting up. Although the audience was entertained, it would have been better if I had anticipated and prepared in advance.

If you speak regularly, then you already have several “bits” that you can pull out at the last minute to spice up your hastily composed remarks. If you have never spoken before, you must think ahead. How likely is it that you will be called upon to say a few words? If there is any chance, then make some notes before you get there.

If you model your impromptu talk after Mark Twain’s First Appearance, you’ll be prepared, interesting, and brief. A hat trick in public speaking.


Steve Rapson is the author of the Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide To Stage & Podium. He is a songwriter and solo guitarist with several CD’s in release.