Papa’s Got A Brand new Knee

by George Stephen Rapson

On October 11th, 2021, I had a total knee replacement at the Paley Orthopedic Institute in West Palm Beach. The highlights follow.

I had polio in 1949. My lower right leg and foot is atrophied. After many surgeries on both legs from ages five to fifteen, I could walk normally. Yay! The downside: as I aged, increased arthritis in the right foot and the left knee. By age fifty, my knee needed help. I had two arthroscopic procedures, one in 2000 and again in 2010. By 2020, walking was painful and biking impossible. This is even worse than it sounds because I use exercise to control my weight (never mind with “…what control?”). God forbid I eat less.

Back to the doctor, he said my knee was deformed and he’d not risk a poor outcome. In fact, three doctors, two in Boston and one in Jupiter, all said that. In Jupiter, it was Dr. Noble, with whom, for an appointment, I had waited six weeks. However, he referred me to Dr. Minas at Paley. All was forgiven, here’s why.

Dr. Minas came in with a full staff. There is nothing like a crowd all paying attention to you to make you feel important and well-taken care of.  After perusing my X-Rays Dr. Minas said, “You have a crooked leg, we’ll straighten that out. This ankle bone is shifted, which is why your gait is not good. That will fix itself with the custom orthotic, which we’ll make from the CAT scan we’ll send you to get in a few minutes.”

I asked him how he could be so positive of a good outcome when three other capable surgeons were not. He didn’t find that question impertinent at all. He zipped across the room on his wheeled chair to the X-rays again. He pointed out what was wrong, why it was wrong, and what he was going to do about it. Say no more!

This was May 2021. Since Rosemary and I were returning to Massachusetts, surgery was scheduled for our return to Jupiter in October.

After clearance from my primary doctor that I probably won’t die on the table, after filling out of myriad forms, after surgery was placed on hold due to Covid, after surgery was then re-scheduled from the 7th to the 11th, after a Covid test three days before surgery, after many calls and emails with Dr. Minas’ able assistant, Ash Itinger, after showing up on surgery day, I am finally in that hospital gown with the back you can never close. Waiting in the prep room, I had to use the bathroom. Since my IV was already in, I pushed the wheeled pole along. The nurse called out, “You have to close the back of the gown!”

“I can’t seem to tie it,” I said.

“Oh, alright, let me do it,” she said, but nicely. Hospitals… check your modesty at the door.

The PA, Jeff, comes in to sign my left knee. Can’t be too careful. The best thing about this whole pre-op procedure is the warm blanket. I’m a hospital veteran from the old days; there were no warm blankets. I asked Jeff how many knee replacements Dr. Minas does a day. Six! I’m number two or three. Even doctors work on a production line.

Then off to the surgical suite at St. Mary’s. It’s cold, it’s bright, people bustling about, beeping machines, injections to my IV. Then…

George…? George…? are you awake?  Hello! You’re all done. After regaining more consciousness, I am wheeled off to my private room. God Bless Medicare. I hope.

It’s one night in the hospital. I am well-cared for by a team of nurses. A physical therapist comes by around 8:00PM. She, and an assistant, greet me cheerily. I know trouble is brewing.

“Hi George, oh, I see it’s Steve, let’s see if you can get up and walk a bit.”

Really?  But I did. Slowly, cautiously. No serious pain yet. We hobbled out to the hall, me with a walker, they holding me lightly on both arms. Down the hall to a flight stairs.

“Would you like to try the stairs?” She encourages. Again, really?

I’m game for anything they say I should do. There’s a railing on both sides, so up and down the stairs is not too hard. I feel like a champion of knee recovery.

Home the next day. Mrs. Rapson is a solicitous helper. Speaking of pain, here it comes. No kidding. I don’t drink, smoke or do drugs, but give me those oxycodone pills right now, please.

This is the part of knee replacement where you say, “Why did I ever do this?” For the next few weeks it’s ice, pills, PT, and struggles to get up and down. My drain broke, blood on the floor. Calls to the doctor. Is this bad?  No so much… take out the needle and put a band-aid on it. Putting on socks and underwear yourself is a distant memory.

Again, Mrs. Rapson is patient with the patient. I just want to sit in this chair all day with my leg up.

No rest permitted, however. Dr. Minas, nurses, PT professionals, and knee replacement veterans all said the same thing: Do the PT, do it every day, all day. If you want the function back that made you have this operation in the first place, then do the PT.

I went to Synergy Health & Wellness in Jupiter three days a week.  Lydia, Amy and Rob all worked on my knee. They hurt me. But they were nice while doing it. In a couple of months, things were better enough that I saw the light. I walked without a cane. I bought a bike trainer.  Dr. Minas said, “The more you spin, the more you win.” 

So I spinned. It hurt a lot. PT person, Amy, said, “Knee therapy is the one place where no pain, no gain is true.” 

Rosemary and I returned north for the holidays. I continued with daily at-home PT and went to a new physical therapist.

Back in Jupiter after the New Year, I rode my bike: eight miles to Juno Pier and back. 

Mission accomplished.


Steve Rapson is a writer of songs and stories. He’s a concert guitarist with several CDs in release and the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium.

Master Of My Domain

I used to coach people to be more effective public speakers.  After leaving Gillette, it was going to be my new career. I discovered I did not want any new career. I just wanted to play my guitar. Thankfully, I had a wife, Rosemary, who still worked.

However, I did keep one major client. It was 1995. Together we discovered the Internet, websites, domain names, et. al.  He jumped in with both feet and considerable financial resources. Here’s Bill FitzPatrick today:

Although we don’t see much of each other anymore, for several years Bill called me his best friend. I called him my mentor.  He suggested I get involved with internet marketing, too. I had little interest. I just wanted to play my guitar. He ignored my lack of interest and bought me domain names ( and In 1997, he had his staff build me a little text based website:  

I got traffic. I got tons of emails from people asking how to be successful musicians. I answered these emails and posted the Q&A on my Acoustic Guitar website. No money, but some fun, and a certain kind of recognition.

One afternoon, while napping on the couch (retirement at forty-eight is great) I  got a phone call from a woman: the president of String Letter Publishing: the publisher of, among many others, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. After introducing herself she said:

“I see you have a website using our name.”

“Yes, I do,” I said. I was a bit excited. I thought she was going to suggest an on-line partnership.  At the time I was an advertiser in several music magazines. Acoustic Guitar being one of them. I had a one-sixth page display ad for Christmas Guitar: Book and CD

But, no.

“We would like our name.” She said rather unceremoniously. At the time their internet address was Character limitations and all that back in the day.

“You mean, I should just give it to you?” I said.

“Well, yes,” she said, “we have a legal right to our trademarked name.” Not quite true at the time.

She went on, “We have spent much time and money developing a high quality image for Acoustic Guitar. Your amateur little website diminishes our trademark.”

*Sigh*, no partnership for me. Just hurt feelings.

Truly, if she had taken a different tack, a little compliment (phony or not). Maybe some thanks for being a loyal advertiser (at $750 a month). Perhaps the offer of a mention or two in the magazine. I would have just signed the name over and been happy to do it.

Marshaling a little diplomacy, I said, “I’m not sure of my standing here, let me think about this and get back to you.”

I then called my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, the man who got me into this internet thing in the first place. I related the phone call to him and said, “She hurt my feelings, I’m too emotionally invested. Will you deal with them?”

Bill is a Sixth Degree Black Belt in Shotokan Karate. He started life as a teacher in Cambridge Public Schools. His personality was a good fit for the position of Teacher of Teenaged Offenders from the Billerica House of Correction. Later, he was a millionaire real estate investor and landlord. One of his favorite quips, “I’ve made millions and lost millions, the key is I didn’t lose them all.”

I could almost hear Bill rubbing his hands together in happy anticipation of going to battle for me. “OK! Who do I call?”

About two hours later, Bill called me back. “They want to know what you want.”

My philosophy has been to ask for the Sun and settle for the Moon. “I want my current display ad, free, for life!”

“OK!” said Bill, “Be back to you.”

A half hour goes by, the phone rings, it’s Bill again.

“You’re not gonna’ get that, what do you really want?”

“I want my one-sixth page display ad for free, revised at my discretion, every month for five years.”  The moon.

Bill calls a final time, “OK, it’s done. They’ll send the paperwork.” Then he laughs.

“What?” I asked.

“One of the lawyers asked if I was an attorney,” said Bill. “He said, you negotiate like one.”

I thanked him and asked if his internet guru could find me a new domain name. I suggested, or Both were available. Better to be lucky than good, as they say. I’ve had them ever since, along with, also acquired for me by Mr. FitzPatrick.

Later in our client/friend relationship, Bill encouraged me to write a book about performing and public speaking.

“Bill, I just want to play my guitar,” I said. “Besides, there are dozens of books already on that subject.”

“Not one by you,” he said.

A few weeks after that conversation, Bill dropped a hundred pages, mostly blank in front me. 

He said, “Your book should be 101 Questions and Answers on Performing. I’ve done most of the F-ing work for you: here are the questions, all you have to do is write the answers.”

Indeed he had. At the top of each blank page was a question. What he had done was write my consulting advice, our conversations and interactions over the past few years, in the form of a question. As I looked over the questions I realized how brilliant this was. Bill really had done more than half the work.

Still, I’m lazy. I just want… (well, you know) So I asked him if he had the questions on a disk. God forbid I use a pen. 

I wrote the book. Bill’s company published it. I changed my free ad in Acoustic Guitar magazine to sell the book instead of CDs. I thought that five years of display advertising in a major music magazine would make me a household name. The ad ran from 1998 to 2003.  My book, The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage and Podium, sold steadily as long as the ad ran. I put it on Amazon and sales bumped nicely. But when the free advertising stopped, sales plummeted.

The numbers didn’t quite work. The ad cost $750 a month. On average, book sales were $400-$500 a month. It doesn’t take a marketing genius to see that is unsustainable. 

I now sell the occasional book. Even more occasionally, a CD. Mrs. Rapson and I are not getting rich, but we don’t need to be. Enough is, indeed, enough.

I didn’t become a household name. I did get a good story. And without my friend and mentor, Bill FitzPatrick, I wouldn’t have a published book, or a few valuable domain names, or happy memories of our time together during the wild west of the new internet.

Mrs. Rapson is now retired along with me. We have a great life in Massachusetts and Florida.

And, I’m still playing my guitar.


Steve Rapson is a songwriter, solo guitarist, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podium .

A Week With The Grandchildren

As all working parents know, Day Care professionals need a vacation, too. A paid vacation.  So every year, for one week—often two—plus some obscure holidays, working parents must scuffle for alternative child care.

Lucky ones have fully functioning parents within a reasonable drive. Rosemary and Steve: Grandparents to the rescue.

We’ve done it all before. And we did it when we were young, poor, and mostly ignorant about how to do it. How hard could this be?

So each morning at 8:00 AM, Savannah, four years old, and Jackson, twenty-two months old, are deposited at our door step. Rosemary, an early riser, greets them as all loving Nanas do:  smiles and cheery hellos.  Steve, aka Papa, usually still lounging in bed, is roused by happy screeches and the occasional non-specific whine. A whine like no other.  It is very like an ice pick in the ear. A most effective alarm.

Nana offers breakfast and sincere queries to the whiner as to specifics of the problem.

Savannah & Jackson with Jenna & Jordan

Savannah & Jackson with Jenna & Jordan

“Do you want juice?….  Eggs…?  Toast…? Milk…?”

Each answered with a scurrilous, shrieked, “No!”

I have since been reminded that the first two words a toddler learns are, No! and Mine! They serve as a catch-all answer for any question. They even say no when they mean yes.

For the last twenty or so years I have been sheltered from conversations that have no logic and are unfettered by even the most rudimentary social skills. Our brains are pattern recognition machines. There is no pattern to this noise.

I get up, put on my robe and escape to the bathroom. I muster a happy face and greet the urchins as I pass by. They are happy to see me for five seconds, after which I become an obstacle to their free-range behavior. Every toy is out of the box and under foot in less than a minute. Every toy’s ownership is loudly re-negotiated. I threaten to throw away any small plastic part that my bare feet find.

I lock the bathroom door because whatever I am doing in there is infinitely more interesting than anything going on elsewhere. Jackson is the strongest two year old I remember meeting. He could pop the hook and eye off the bi-fold doors easily if I didn’t put a hand on them as I brush my teeth. I actually think he should join me in there now and then, in the hope that the learn by watching thing that humans are so good at will get him out of diapers sooner.

Dirty diapers. That’s where the women are separated from the men. A grandmother will joyfully ask the little guy if he, “…has poopies in his diaper?”

Whatever the situation, Jackson says, “No!”

Whereupon, Nana grabs him for closer inspection which may involve eye and/or nose verification. Really!  Pick up the kid, turn him around and stick one’s nose in the general area.  Only mothers and grandmothers are capable.

In my own defense I must tell you that Mrs. Rapson cannot pick up vomit of any kind, or animal accidents, without adding to the mess herself. That’s been my job, manfully accepted, for the duration.  But poopies in the diaper, no problem.

The strategy for the next nine hours is to keep them busy. Rosemary has several techniques.  Put them in the car and take them shopping.  The main benefit being they are restrained in their respective seats.

We also take them on little hikes. Bike paths, woodsy trails, keep them doggies moving. They can walk for about a mile. Any more than that and Jackson sits down. Savannah is more of a trooper, wearing the grandparents out if we let her.  If a playground is nearby, a half hour there is good.

Then home for lunch. Jackson is worn out by then, but still objects lustily at the prospect of a nap. He runs to a protected space behind the furniture, falls to the floor in true operatic high drama fashion. Where do they learn that? He wails as if his leg were being sawed off. We have discovered that if Papa picks him up and puts him in the crib, he objects less and I am a hero for a few minutes.

While Jackson naps, Nana and Savannah have some quality time in the pond. Papa listens to the silence, now appreciated so much more since its absence.

Lather, rinse, repeat. For five days.

The German philosopher, Schopenhauer, famously said, “I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.”

I take this as evidence that one becomes wiser with age. I remember the noise my own two children generated. I survived it for nearly twenty years.

But now, Gentle Reader, after five days I am barely able to think. Each cacophonous outburst jangles my inner peace. There is no escape. Like the cat that knows you are disturbed by her attentions, the children seek me out wherever I might hide. I love them dearly. But is not the most perfect love experienced from afar?

So today as they set off for home at the end of their week with Nana and Papa it was with true happiness that I hugged them goodbye.  Post ice cream kissing being generally a messy affair.

Hello, silence, my old friend.


Steve Rapson is a concert guitarist, songwriter, and author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide To Stage & PodiumHe has released several CD’s of his guitar playing and songwriting.

At The R.M.V

   Perhaps you are old enough to remember the horror that was Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles in days gone by: The confusion, the fear of standing in the wrong line, did you bring the right piece of paper? which kind of payment would be acceptable for what document? None of which would be revealed until, after forty minutes, you reached the front of a line and came face to face with The Dragon Lady.

    I am happy to report all that is history.  Yes, there are still lines; but they are fun lines.

    The day before our anniversary I had presented my license as ID at the bank. The nice bank officer lady said, “Your license expired three months ago, do you have another form of ID?”

    I never look at my license, it has the awful picture that ruins my carefully manufactured self-image. It’s a good thing I drive like an old guy. I haven’t been asked for my license and registration in twenty years.

    So, next day, June 20th, our anniversary celebration began with a trip to the RMV in Leominster.

    It’s 11:00AM and ninety degrees. Arriving at the entrance we see…

    The Line. It’s out the door which is being held open letting the A/C cool the parking lot. This is the line you first stand in. The RMV person asks why you are here and makes sure you have the forms, the right payment, gives you a number, and sends you to the bleachers.

    People who come in another door walk along the line looking for the end, “Are you in line?” they ask, hoping we are not. A little old lady stands behind us, it being our turn to let the A/C out. She says, “They keep trying to get rid of me, but I keep coming back,” referring to the RMV tests for senior drivers.

Pay Attention

Pay Attention

    There’s a big yellow sign stating how you may pay for what RMV product. I get nervous and ask Rosemary if she has enough cash tucked away.

    “Oh, yes, always,” says Rosemary. I actually know this. She has uncounted treasure folded tightly and hidden throughout her wallet. Rosemary and her sisters call these “tuckies.”  Once twenties or fifties are folded many times and turned into a tuckie, they become play money facilitating spontaneous trips to Foxwoods Casino for guilt free pissing away of our, formerly, real money.

    The man in front of us agrees with Rosemary.

    “My dad always said to have some cash tucked away. When he died my sister and I found $21,000 in a box in the cellar.”

    “Wow!” exclaims the mildly envious Rosemary.

    “Yes, it took us a while to find it; we split it right there,” said the man.

    I turn to Rosemary and ask, “Do you have any serious money stashed somewhere?”

    At first she says no, but then remembers, “Oh, I do have an envelope with money from my Dad.  Now where did I put that…?”

    “Really?” I said.

    The man piped up, “Yeah, I have a sock in the garage stuffed with cash.”

    “Oh…?” I said, “Where do you live?”  Where upon he begins to tell me in detail, then gets the gag.  As I said, it’s fun in line at the RMV.

    The line moves right along and we reach the intake lady. I hand her my completed  renewal form, she hands me number B146.  There are eight clerks working, and they are “Now Serving B105.”  Yikes!  And that does not count the A’s, the F’s, and the C’s.

    Time for people watching: Another fun thing to do at the RMV.

    The rest rooms are around the corner. Both are occupied. Through a glass door I see more rest rooms in a private business section of the building. There is a big sign above this door: NO ENTRANCE! EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY! ALARM WILL SOUND!  Since I am having a private emergency, I open the door. No alarm sounds. And this new restroom is lovely. Later I see a line forming at the RMV rest rooms. So I helpfully inform people that if they just push this door open…

    “Oh no!” says a lady, “I’m afraid to do that.” I demonstrate and leave. My work here is done.

     An hour has passed and our number is approaching. But, it is lunchtime and eight clerks are reduced to four clerks. There is a collective moan around me as all realize the slowdown. You might want to avoid the registry at lunchtime. Oh, you work and lunchtime is when you can get there?

    There’s a passport sitting on a table in the back. Opening it, I see it belongs to a young man from Dominica. Leaving the passport, I wander around the building looking for likely candidates. I see one and approach in as non-threatening way as I can, “Hello, did you leave a passport on the table over there.”  At first he looks panicked, than scampers over to retrieve the important document. An older brother (I presume) smiles at me and says, “Thanks… Oy! What to do with that guy!”  I feel like Superman, wandering the earth doing good deeds.

    With the slow down in people being called, I observe how we all deal with the wait. It seems that I am the only one not staring at, a) “now serving” numbers displayed on screens or, b) a smart phone. A section of benches looks like group prayer as all heads are bent to their phones.Registry 2

    All types come together at the RMV. It’s as good as the airport for people watching. I observe those who, once called, are served quickly at the counter. We like them.  Also we have…

    He of the thorny problem and the long explanation. Taking up time, our time, at one of the four clerks still open. What in the world could he be talking about?

    Hacking cough guy. He has extra space around him.

    Close-to-shirtless body builder guy, Pecs, nipples, and biceps on display.

    Lady with screaming child. No random gathering of humans is complete without one. I smile as the carriage is pushed off to distant parts of the building, imaging a retreating Doppler effect.

    Mother with bevy of young children.  Rosemary, being the sweet girl she is, bonds with all of them, admiring in turn their dolls, drawings, and new hair cut.

    Exasperated-with-wait-time guy. He sighs dramatically as each number, not his, is called.

    Dressed-to-kill girl. Oh, so cute. I imagine she must have someone important to impress after the RMV. Surely she didn’t do that for all of us.

    Now, mother of three young children is losing control of them. She counts to three after each cease and desist command, which is ignored by the now manic urchins. Tears and tantrums are about to launch when the day is saved by…

    Toy wielding lady. The toy is a little top which the lady spins to the floor. All are promptly mesmerized.  Me included. The kids sit cross legged in a circle as the top spins. The kindness of strangers, I think. I have to get me one of those.

    Finally, our number is called and zip, zip, eye test, take a picture (no better than the last) $60 on the credit card, and we are on our way after a pleasant conversation with the nice RMV clerk.

    “I suppose I am not the first to let my license expire.”

    “Certainly not,” she says, “and you won’t be the last.”

    Out in the scorching parking lot, exasperated-wait-time guy walks by us, “Well, that was hell,” he says. Not so, I think. Yes, it was ninety minutes. But we had fun. Never would I have imagined future fun at the RMV when facing The Dragon Lady so many years ago.Man of Steel Ticket

    Our anniversary has gone well so far. We drive back to Gardner for lunch at an Asian bistro in the Tympany Mall and then several doors down to the movies.  Man of Steel is our choice. It’s pretty good.

Gardner news 2

We Made The Front Page

    Exiting the movie theater I see a pond has appeared in the parking lot. To my left is a fountain of water billowing up from below the lot. And our 2009 Prius is not where we parked it.

    A broken water main has flooded the lot. We have parked our car in the lowest point of the lot.  It is flooded over the doors, filling the cabin up to the pedals. Our electric battery driven car, filled with water.  I know instantly that the car is dead. Confirmed by the dealer the next day.

    Happy Anniversary!

    The police are sympathetic, the tow driver is sympathetic, the newspaper reporter is sorry, too. If sympathy were legal tender, we’d be rolling in it.

    The car is towed. We call a cab. Go home. Discover we are not insured for this peril. My agent says, “How could I let you buy a car and not buy comprehensive?”  I take responsibility. Not his fault. Anyway, we’ll sue. That is until my lawyer tells me these things are Acts of God and no one is at fault, thus no one to sue.


The police help out

    How to deal with this?  As my friend, Tom Smith, says in his song, “…Recalculating, decide what’s important, turn left, and move on.”

    So we bought a 2013 Prius Plug-In with all the trimmings, and all the required insurance. And are grateful we were able to do so.

    And that, Dear Reader, is how we spent our 43rd wedding anniversary. Memories are made of these.

Steve & Rosemary Build a Deck

 In 1985 Rosemary and I bought a condo in Boston’s historic South End. It was small, 506 square feet. We bought it as an investment, as we couldn’t afford to live there at the time. But if we ever did live there, I was determined that the first thing I would do to improve the place is build a deck off the bedroom. A little outside space in the city. A quiet, private refuge in the air.  Ahhh…

Entrance to 75 Appleton Street

Entrance to 75 Appleton Street

Twenty years later, in 2005, we were able to move into our little pied á terre. Rosemary walked to work at the Prudential. I cleaned and cooked and shopped. May I say that being a kept man was a long time dream come true. I highly recommend it.

But still, we were bumping into each other in the little hall. So began the travails of building a little outdoor retreat in an historic district of an historic city.

My first efforts of asking around the neighborhood were squelched by all who opined: You’ll never get a permit…;  you need an engineer, if you can find one who will take a little job, and they cost a fortune…; the neighbors will object…;  you can’t put poles in my yard… (spoken by the owner of the garden unit in our building);  these old brick walls won’t support it… (if one can’t have poles in the yard, then a cantilever design is required).

Thus unencouraged and forewarned of the obstacles, I back-burnered the idea. But a couple of years later I found a flyer on a neighbor’s door step advertising a company, one man, actually: John Carter, who built fire escapes and iron decks in the South End. What could hurt?  I called, he showed up, took a look and named a price: $5,000 for a nice little deck off my bedroom.

“You’ll have to get a carpenter to turn that window into a door,” Mr. Carter said, “Probably cost you another two grand.”  Really? I thought, I can have a deck for less than ten thousand dollars?

 “How long do you think this will take?” I asked.

“Once you get the permit, a few weeks at most,” he said.  “I can build the iron at my shop anytime.”

Now, mightily encouraged by Mr. Carter’s show of competence and confidence, I gave him a check for $2,500 and told him to begin at once.

And so begins the saga of building my deck.  It went like this…

 1. Find a contractor.  As I said, John Carter came by way of a soggy flyer on a doorstep.

Much later we found we needed two:  the iron guy, John Carter, and the everything else guy, a Mr. Warren Gilman of City State Construction. Mr. Carter brought Mr. Gilman in when he found the job was bigger than anticipated.  No surprise there.  I got estimates.  But even I know that estimates are, well, only estimates.

Depending on who you get contractor-wise (some do more than others), the home owner may have to do much leg work. And I did; occasionally having my hand held by local contractor and friend Bill Thibodeau.

The City of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department is kinder and gentler to the homeowner than to the contractor, thus my personal involvement in the machinations of the permitting and appeals process.

 2. Get engineering drawings.  Wait.

John Carter recommended the architect/engineer who did the design engineering and drawings. And, as mentioned, he also brought in Mr. Gilman. These two men were worth all the delays and foot dragging and excuses Mr. Carter put me through for nearly two years. He’s a nice man, but I feared his talk was far better than his walk.

Nearly a year went by after I gave Mr. Carter that $2,500 deposit. Whenever John hit a problem, such as when he went to Boston’s Inspectional Services at 1010 Mass Ave to get a permit and they told him my address was wrong and my condo was a house, not a condo, he stopped working for me. He didn’t tell me about this. He just stopped doing anything.

In the process he changed his phone number. I found this out by calling for an update and getting the number you have reached is no longer in service message. Oh, No! I have been snookered!  But, no, he had just gotten busy with other, easier, things.

It took me a while to find John’s new number via the engineer with whom he had an ongoing business relationship. I called him prepared for a fight. But he was nonplussed, and said he couldn’t proceed because of the not-a-condo issue. It’s a typical contractor mindset that obstacles to progress are your problem, not theirs, even if they have your money. Communication is not their strong suit.

I went to 1010 Mass. Ave to find out why my condo was not a condo. A nice permit intake person clacked away on her keyboard for a while and found out what the SNAFU had been. She said that someone in her office had not done their job properly when John Carter had first shown up. I blessed her for the help. Progress!

3. Obtain Landmark Commission approval.  Wait.

My condo is in an historic district of Boston, the South End: formerly a collection of brick row rooming houses for the working class. It has evolved into one of Boston’s most desirable neighborhoods to live and work. Before applying for a permit, a special approval is required for all work on these buildings from the Boston Landmarks Commission. However if your plans show that your modifications are not visible from the street, then approval is quick and easy. And that was the last thing that was easy.

4. With Landmark approval in hand, I submit construction drawings, along with pictures of the back of house, application, and permit fee.  Wait.

5. My request for a permit is denied.

After a few weeks I got a notice in the mail with the “Denied” box checked off in a form letter. South End zoning does not allow a deck above the first floor. Who knew?  You would think that someone somewhere along the way would have told me that.

6. Go back to 1010 Mass Ave and file an appeal. Pay another fee.  Wait.

Eventually, the appeals board sent a form letter asking me to provide a rationale as to why they should grant a variance. They even gave suggestions as to what constitutes valid reasons for said variance:  Quality of life issues: Outside space required even for those unfortunate enough to live above the first floor, many other people have decks, etc.

7. Prepare for the appeal. 

I asked my fellow condo owners and neighbors up and down the street to submit a letter saying they have no objection to my building a deck. I did all the work by delivering to each of them a big package containing:

Back of house with deck sketched in

a. The engineering drawings.

b. The picture of the back of the house.

c. Pictures of other decks on buildings adjacent.

d. A form letter that says they support (or at least do not object) to me building a deck.

e. I wrote a personal letter, after finding all my neighbor’s names, appealing for their support.

I spoke personally with everyone I could, asking if they would attend to this letter and send me a copy.  I included two stamped and addressed envelopes in the package:  one for City Hall, and one to send a copy to me so I could bring a big pile of support papers to City Hall.  Mr. Carter, bless his helpful heart, said the bigger pile of paper you can supply in support of your appeal, the better.  City Hall likes piles of paper.

I distributed twenty-five of these packages in my neighborhood.  I got three or four back.  Even the people who told me face to face that they would support the building of a deck did not bother to reply. I guess we’re all busy… but, geez!  However, I got enough to work with.  Most importantly, nobody voiced an objection.

8. Mail the appeal form, rationale, copies of support letters, pictures, and drawings to the appeals board at City Hall.  Wait.

9. After a few weeks, I got a notice in the mail telling the time and date to show up at City Hall for the appeal hearing.  Wait.

It is quite a scene. I, and dozens of others, wait our turn as a group of engineers, building inspectors, and political appointees sit on a raised dais before the assembled supplicants. There’s yelling, tears, and gavel pounding as those who object to whatever is being appealed shout out their concerns, as well as moans from those who have been denied. Some of the people have lawyers, engineers and contractors with them. I went by myself.

I am called up in my turn and sit, humbly, before this group that holds the fate of my little deck in their collective mitts. As I take my seat, two people I have never seen before stand up from somewhere in the crowd and declare that they have no objection to my appeal and wish the board to support it. I found out later that these folks are from the mayor’s office and the city council office from my district. Part of the appeal includes a requirement that elected officials approve the appeal. So they send these people to expedite that process. All very political. And one of the few times expedition was in evidence. I think it helps if you are a regular voter.

The engineers looked over my drawings and asked a couple of easy questions. One engineer complimented me on the drawings saying this is how these decks should be done. Well, OK!  They approved me, and said good luck with my deck. It took three minutes.

10. Finally!  A permit. Construction can begin.  Ahh, no… sorry, not just yet.  Wait.

11. Go back to 1010 Mass Ave with my approval from the appeals board and apply, again, for a permit… and pay a fee.   Wait.

12. The appeals board (or Inspectional Services, I can’t quite recall) now sends a letter to all my neighbors.  Wait.

The letter says I have applied for a permit to build a deck and does anyone have an objection.  If so, send your objection to… etc.  What?  Did they not look at all that stuff I sent many weeks earlier? You would think this would have happened during the appeals process. But, no. As before, no one objected.


13. Inspectional Services sends me another letter. 

This letter states that before I can get a permit, an engineer at City Hall must review my plans and approve them.  Really?  I thought that’s what Inspectional Services did. But I guess not.  My construction manager, Mr. Gilman, tells me that it might go smoother if I go myself to City Hall. So, I called City Hall to find the right department and schedule a review.

14. Go to City Hall and find the Engineering Department.

At the appointed hour I wind through the concrete labyrinth that is Boston’s City Hall. Here I meet with a most attractive young woman who is one of the City’s engineers. As she reviews my plans I kvetch about the cumbersome process the City puts us through. She agreed, and even sympathized, saying they are trying to streamline the process.

Then she tells me that my plans contain a fuzzy design issue. Inspectional Services might have a problem with it, and delay permitting even further. I slump in my chair and struggle to avoid whimpering right in front of her. She takes pity on me, pitiable as I am right now, and writes notes on the plans explaining exactly how the construction was to be done and said that if there was a problem that she would intervene and move things along. I blessed her, too!

15. Bring all documents to the contractor. Wait

I walked them directly from City Hall to Warren Gilman’s office around the corner, anything to avoid more delay. He takes everything to 1010 Mass Ave. to apply for the final Permit, now seeming like the Holy Grail of Decks.

I could have done that myself as well.  But by this time I was letting Warren do some of this as he was much more pro-active than Mr. Carter.

16. The Permit

Warren called me a week or two later and said, “I have the permit in my hand.”

In his hand! It’s a yellow card that I must place in a visible spot in my window. My yellow card further has the extra gray stripe on it that says Landmarks has also approved of the work. A highly coveted piece of cardboard, this.

I hopefully ask, “Hammers and saws and those that wield them will soon be descending upon us?”

“Well, yes… but not just yet,” says Warren.

By now I am inured to “not yet.”  I resignedly ask Warren when, if ever, will my deck come to be.

He explains the tricky coordination of various trades:  electrical, plumbing, carpenters of various skills, painters, window and door people. This one can’t do their job till that one does his. And of course you can’t finish up until the inspector comes in at a semi-complete stage to approve the work. There was the usual finger pointing as to who is responsible for delays.

From the first hammer applied to plaster and brick, to the last swipe of a paint brush, it took five months. Which was swift in comparison to the lengthy approval process. Plaster dust and ordinary dust inundated our condo (and the condo below) for three or four of those months, even though a barrier was built between our bedroom and the living room, complete with zippered plastic door. Rosemary and I slept on the pull-out couch for months while construction was in process.

I gave John Carter $2,500 in April of 2008. Warren Gilman fixed the last punch list item (a little hole in a brand new window screen) in December of 2010. Nearly three years. And like all big projects, if I had known in advance what it would take, I probably would have passed. But blissful ignorance has its benefits. I have my little Eden in the Air.

The final irony: we didn’t get to sit on our new deck. We moved out the night it was finished as we had to rent the place for several months to pay for everything.


1. Request for Support Letter

2. Construction Drawing

3. The Estimate

4. Pictures of work in process

5. Before

6. After


Request for neighbor support

May 11, 2009

Dear Neighbor:

This note is to ask for your support with the Boston Board of Zoning Appeals as Rosemary and I try to get approval for a zoning variance to build a balcony at the back of our unit.You may have received a notice from the Board about our upcoming appeal hearing on May 26, 2009 at 9:30AM.  Attached is a copy of that notice. As you may know, in the South End, balconies of any kind above the first floor are permitted only by a zoning variance from the Board of Appeals.

Attached for your info, is a copy of the engineering plans for our balcony and a couple of pictures of the back of our building, as well as a similar balcony down the alley. Ours will be the only balcony at the back of 75 Appleton. Although other unit owners at 75 Appleton may wish to build similar balconies in the future.

Our contractor is John Carter of Carter Iron.  He has done work throughout the South End and comes highly recommended. The proposed balcony is small, 5×12 feet, and supported by robust tie-in to the internal building structure, rather than posts in the yard below. It will be of black iron and, structurally and design-wise, in harmony with other balconies throughout the South End.

John Carter tells us that support from our neighbors is an important element in gaining approval. If you could send us a note on your letterhead affirming you have no objection to our balcony, that would be most helpful and much appreciated.

Enclosed is a stamped envelope addressed to us at 75 Appleton.  Or, if you prefer, just jot a note on the form in the Appeals notice (enclosed) and send it to: Board of Appeal, 1010 Massachusetts Ave, 4th Fl., Boston, MA02118.  An envelope for that option is also enclosed.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.  And please call if you have questions or concerns. Rosemary and I are staying at our house in the woods for the summer, but we’ll be back in the fall, hopefully to sit on our new balcony.

With Best Regards,


One of several construction drawings

Appleton Balcony Drawing


The Estimate

Client Name: Steve Rapson
Address: 75 Appleton St
Job Description: Install rear balcony, windows and door.

CityState Construction Proposes the following Scope of Services:

Permits Obtain necessary building permit and inspections needed for the project.
Preparation/Protection Seal off bedroom. Protect hallway and common stairs. Clean during project and upon completion.
Demo Remove four sections of wall, ceilings, floor and sub-floor. Remove carpet. Cut brick wall and sill under middle window to allow for door installation. Patch masonry. Remove three windows and trim. Dispose of all debris.
Framing Install new solid blocking required by plans. Fur out walls as needed to allow for new sheetrock. Install new sub-floor. Insulate where needed.
Sheetrock and Plaster Patch walls and ceilings and skim coat. Texture ceiling to match existing.
Windows and Doors Install new oversized vinyl insulated glass windows. Install new 2’4”x 6’ 8” solid core birch door exterior door with a 16”x16” light  and half screens. Install a 12” x 28” transom window above the door . Install exterior trim around the windows. Paint all exterior trim and door. Install new storm door with removable screen panel
Plumbing- Cut existing baseboard heat and drop the loop below the new doorway. Install new end covers. This will require draining the system and re-filling it and possibly bleeding the system.
Painting Paint bedroom and ceilings
Exterior Balcony Build exterior balcony according to plans provided.
Prep/Demo /Framing/Masonry



 $   400.00



 $   700.00


 $   400.00

Door and Hardware

 $   650.00

Door installation

 $   300.00

Storm Door

 $   350.00


 $   100.00

Transom Window

 $   330.00


 $   150.00


 $   700.00

Interior Painting

 $   400.00


 $   225.00


 $   325.00


 $   150.00


Exterior Balcony


Incl. interior steel
* Allowance
** option




Steve’s Notes:  I added a few things to this work:

1. A bamboo hardwood floor:                                    $2,000

2. Two new interior doors in the condo:                      $800

3. Plastering & Painting of the entire bedroom:      $1,500

As the work was being done, problems were discovered with the interior brick wall requiring a mason to fix:

Mason:                                                       $750

Also, moving the existing hot water heating lines was more of a problem than first anticipated:

Heating Contractor:                             $1,000

The architect/engineering drawings:               $1,200.

And general “estimate creep” brought the total project of “deck build/bedroom renovate” to:   $25,000


Construction – Outside

Outside work


Scaffold going up

Scaffold going up

Iron on the wall

Iron on the wall


Construction – Inside

Window becomes at door

Window becomes a door

steel posts in the walls

steel posts in walls & tied into joists

new windows

new windows






Bedroom Reverse

Deck From Bedroom

View From Deck

View From Deck

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.