When I was a kid I loved to go to my grandmother’s house. She was affectionately known as Mo-Mo and walked through her little ranch style house with a walker. She grew up on a small farm in the south, and she always watched out for her grandkids. She just seemed to know how the world worked and to this day had more common sense and seat of the pants knowledge than anyone I have ever met.
But what set her apart from the ordinary was her cooking. She was a master of simple ingredients. She could take ordinary flour, sugar, and other ingredients that you would find on any pantry shelf and create masterpieces. But there was one meal that stood above the rest. You knew you were in for a treat when Mo-Mo was making her Southern Fried Chicken.
I remember fondly one afternoon I was over at Mo-Mo’s after school and she was getting ready for my cousin’s family to come over for dinner. That day she taught me her secret. That day she taught me how to make magic.
She had me get down the heavy cast iron skillet. “To make chicken you have to use this pan,” she said. She had me get the chicken out of the refrigerator, separate the pieces, and put them on a large plate. Mo-Mo was picky about her chicken and even though she couldn’t get out of the house most days and go to the store, she always made sure that her favorite butcher at the store across the street would pick out the pieces and send them home.
On the plate she had me wet down the chicken just so and roll it in her flour, buttermilk, and spices mixture. She showed me how she did it and then had me do it. After a little practice, my pieces looked just like hers.
We then put the shortening in the pan and she turned on the flame. Then she told me another secret. “You have to get the oil at just the right temperature,” She said as she adjusted the flame down and tested the temperature of the oil by dropping water drops in and watching how they evaporated.
She then took her tongs and put the pieces in the pan one by one. She put them around the side of the pan and turned them over slowly. She had me set a timer and we turned the pieces in a rhythm until the pieces were golden brown and the timer went off. When the buzzer rang, we removed the pieces quickly one by one and served up an incredible dinner that night.
To this day there was nothing better than her fried chicken. It tasted so good and yet it was based on ordinary ingredients. She was able to take ordinary and make it extraordinary. She knew the secret.
In the public speaking organization Toastmasters, some people are like my Grandmother. They take simple words and stories and create masterpieces. Their 5 to 7 minute speeches are works of art. The secret is in the preparation.
Here is an analogy.
1. In public speaking you need a safe and encouraging environment to practice your speaking. Like the sturdiness of a cast iron frying pan, Toastmasters is that organization.
2. To prepare a speech, you need to start with quality ingredients and then prepare them just right. Preparing a speech takes time and effort. The ingredients of an award winning speech include powerful stories, spiced up with just the right words and metaphors. The facts and figures must be solid and you need to roll them together in powerful sentences and word pictures.
3. Those powerful words and stories then need to be immersed in the minds of an audience. Like the oil in the story above an audience needs to be “the right temperature” for best results. An easy way to do this is to meet with audience members before the speech and introduce yourself. It’s also helpful to have an emcee warm up the audience before it’s your turn to speak.
4. Just like the chicken, timing is of the essence in speaking. You need to turn from the speech opening, to the body, and finally to the close. And then you need to get out of the fire and sit down. Stay up in front of an audience too long and you’re sure to get burned.
A good speaker, just like a good cook, can take the simplest of ingredients and create magic. It just takes quality elements, proper preparation, and attention to detail.