Making Speeches for the Harry Potter Festival - Part 1 of ?

I'll be giving speeches at Potter in the Park this year. That's a Harry Potter festival held in Sparta, Michigan. I'm the Professor of Muggle Studies. It's awesome! (Muggles are non-magical people.)

How did I get this position? I wrote a couple of articles on Harry Potter, which is an interest of mine. One of them was noticed by Rebecca, the woman that organizes the event. She contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be involved. Of course I said yes! Then we had to figure out how I would be involved. There were really only two good options, I could either do writing or public speaking. She had been wanting to have a Professor of Muggle Studies for a few years anyway. It worked out perfectly.

We worked out that I'll be speaking from the main stage. I've stood in that audience before and it's possible that it gets into the hundreds of viewers at a single time. Presenters on things like owls who have participated in previous years will have priority, so I'm not sure yet how much time I'll have. Potentially I'll be able to give two 30 minute and two 15 minute speeches, but that could change. That's 1.5 hours of original speaking content to be delivered in one day, and only for one day. That's quite the order. It shouldn't be a problem because there is a ton of material that I can make and I've given multiple 45 minute keynote addresses before, along with hundreds of smaller speeches.

There are two major steps here. 1) I have to choose what I'm presenting on. 2) I have to prepare the material. Execution is the next step, but that's more fun than work. There are also a number of smaller but important decisions to make. For instance, should I dress as a wizard? Or, should I be the professor who is so immersed in his study of muggles that he wears muggle clothes? If I wear muggle clothes should I wear them correctly, or should I get some things wrong? I'll leave those decisions for the future.

Also, I think I need a resume and a background. I assume someone will be announcing me. I want to coordinate my credentials. If not and I'm introducing myself then I can use these too, as long as I present it as the first day of class, which might be appropriate. I could do that for each speech. Here's what I'm thinking for a basic background.

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Jeffrey Alexander Martin
Visiting Lecturer - Sparta Institute for the Study of Muggles
Current Assistant Professor of Muggle Studies - Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Former Professor of Muggle Studies - Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

- - - - - - -

Notice that I've organized it in a way that explains my Midwestern American accent.

All of the speeches could be considered a part of one class, or I could make them separate classes. Currently I'm thinking it might be best to make them part of one class. But, it might take up a lot of room on the itineraries because you'll have to include the class and the specific class subject, otherwise it will look like I'm giving the same presentation four times, which I'm not. Anyway, I'm thinking the class can be MUG 207 - Muggles in Real Life.

I've been trying to reduce my ideas down to a manageable list to make the final decision on which subjects to move forward with. Here's the shortened list.

- - - - - - -

1. Muggle Appliances - Dishwashers, Dryers, and Microwaves, Oh My!
2. Remarkable Muggle Mail
3. The Rise and Fall of the Muggle Duel
4. The History and Development of Muggle Flight
5. Do Muggles Believe in Dragons?
6. Current Research Project - The Relationship between crash test dummies and dummy lights.
7. My Exploration of the Many Uses of the Rubber Duck

- - - - - - -

All of these could be interesting. I think it could be great to do the history of dueling. I could have a couple of people help me on stage by demonstrating. We would plant them in the audience at first and then bring them up just like calling on kids in the class. It would require more logistics though. We could go through wrestling, boxing, sword fighting, and pistols. It could be a lot of fun.

The idea for the current research project I think is hilarious. It's the equivocation fallacy, where you use the same word in two different ways and it's confusing. Politicians do this all the time for their own devious ends. It might seem to wizards and witches like there should be a relationship between crash test dummies and the dummy warning lights on the dash of a car, but there isn't. Maybe there is a huge research project where Ilvermorny and Hogwarts are collaborating to try to solve the mystery of this connection. I've mentioned it to a couple of people and no one really seemed enthused by it though, so it's a maybe.

I'm definitely going to do the speech on the many uses of the rubber duck. Here's a basic outline for what that speech would look like.

- - - - - - -

1. My first accidental encounter with a rubber duck as a child.
2. Reading Arthur Weasley's paper on "The Many Uses of the Rubber Duck" while in school at Ilvermorny.
3. A teenage adventure to try to observe a rubber duck in action.
4. What the research has revealed: humor, entertainment, child training in animal interaction, water transportation, distraction, possible growth into hunting decoys, relation to the rubber chicken, play as life preparation.
5. Questions fielded from the class. (Possibly hundreds of people from a large crowd in front of the main stage.)
6. Homework assignments.

- - - - - - -

This would be one of the 15 minute slots. I'll leave the details for another post.

For those that are interested I'll dive into the basics of structuring a longer speech. If you join something like Toastmasters, which is what you should do if you're interested in speaking, then you'll have plenty of opportunities to give speeches from 5 to 7 minutes long. You'll also learn to give short speeches that are only a few minutes long, and some that are a bit more, 10 to 15 minutes. With this practice you'll learn to stay saying ah, uh, um, and, and, and, so, so, so, and such. You'll learn how to open with a powerful question and then leave a strong pause afterward, or how to start with a strong statement and position, or how to jump straight into a story. You'll learn how to connect two ideas. How to finish with something related back to the opening of the speech so it feels like the presentation is complete and came to a natural close. When to speed up and when to slow down, when to fluctuate your voice up and when it's useful to whisper. How to handle interruptions, introductions, exists, and props. What to do when you have no idea what to say next. How far you can push your emotional expression, how long you can pause before people start fidgeting, how to make eye contact with specific people, how to move across the stage when you're making a transition in the speech, what to do with your hands, how to hold notes, and how to set up imaginary scenes so that people can see them in their minds. You need to know all of this before you can be very good at speaking. I only really started getting comfortable with public speaking after I knew all of this. A few dozen speeches in and you'll probably be on your way to getting a basic feel for these things. All of that still applies in a longer speech, the structure is just a little different.

These smaller pieces that you develop are all self-contained, but they can be put together. For these speeches I'm going to think in 10 minute bits, because that goes into 30 minutes nicely. So, for a 30 minute speech I'll put 3 of these 10 minute pieces together. You can play with it, there is no hard and fast rule, public speaking is more of an art than a science. For instance, I might easily end up with four pieces instead of three when I'm actually making these speeches. Each of these 10 minute pieces will have its own structure.

The easiest way to do this is to present a story, and then make a point. My favorite structure is to ask a powerful question, take a several second pause, dive directly into a story, then make my point using the story to answer the question. This is just a beautiful structure. I can do this on the fly. At one point I was going to Toastmaster groups three days a week, I was an officer in each group, and I took a major role in almost every meeting. If we were missing a speaker I could always step in and give a speech. Either an idea I had been thinking about beforehand, or I could make an entire speech on the spot in 1 to 5 minutes. I prefer to speak with no notes, so that was never a problem. I've given so many speeches like this that it became a joke that I would always use this same speech structure, and sometimes people would smirk when I opened with a question. Which brings up the point that it's good to change it up sometimes too. The easiest change to make is to give a thesis at the beginning instead of a question. It will set a different tone for the whole presentation and will still work great. I've used this structure hundreds of times and I love it.

When you use the question or thesis opening there are several keys. One is that it has to be a good question or thesis. Two is that you have to pause long enough. This can be uncomfortable when you're new to public speaking. I was at a Toastmaster's conference several years ago and was called up on stage to get training from Darren LaCroix, a former World Champion of Public Speaking. I had won several speaking contests at this point, but I was still uncomfortable. It didn't help that there were 130 trained public speakers in the room that were all staring at me and judging me against some of the best speakers in the world.

Darren told me to start giving my speech. I was using a statement to open. "Imagine you're on a two thousand foot ice cliff looking down! I turned to Jeremiah who was standing next to me and..." There are specific motions, looks, and voice fluctuations that go with this. I did all of that. Darren stopped me on my second sentence. He said I didn't pause long enough after that first statement. He said do it again, but pause longer this time.

I did it again, said it the same way, paused longer. Darren stopped me again. He said I didn't pause long enough again. He came up with a new plan. This time he was going to stand behind me. I would give my first line using the microphone like before and he would start whispering his thoughts into my ear. Only when he stopped talking was I allowed to give my second sentence. He whispered for a long time, probably a full five seconds. It seemed like forever. After I gave my second line he clapped, everyone clapped, and he explained the importance of knowing how to pause. I learned a lot about public speaking in those few minutes.

That story brings to my mind one other important thing. Stories are what connect people. Humans are made to learn from and to live in stories. It's how we work. That's why a lot of business presentations fall flat, they forget that the human mind is made to understand things in a narrative. My favorite public speaker is Bo Eason, and he really emphasizes the power of story. Several years ago I flew from Michigan to California to see him perform his one man play "Runt of the Litter" and I was able to talk with him at the after party. I was amazed at how dynamic and alive he makes even simple stories.

I still have to pick three more subjects and make outlines for those speeches. Then I have to work out the details of all four speeches. That will be for another post. I'm looking forward to the festival.

Here are some of my other articles on Harry Potter:

What Makes Voldemort, Grindelwald, and Slytherin Bad?

Why is Slytherin House Bad?

John Galt, Harry Potter, and Hero Problems


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