I am trying to remember all the times I’ve spoken in public. I am realising that it has sort of been my thing for as long as I can remember. My Grandpa once told me that I had ‘the gift of the gab’ (which could have been his diplomatic way of alerting me to my oversized and overused gob) and I was relentlessly mocked during primary school for always being cast as the narrator in various plays. Apparently I had few qualms about getting up in front of a crowd and telling them what’s what.
The earliest memories I have of public speaking are from Chanukah plays in infant school. We were all charged with one line each and I proclaimed mine, which, if I remember correctly went something along the lines of ‘my menorah is made of bronze’ (eat your heart out, Humphrey Bogart) with such utter preciousness that I felt compelled to provide an unnecessary cue for my fellow student up next. I think the my mum likens the experience of watching me in this play to something akin to nails scratching a chalkboard and still teases me about it to this day. She also constantly reminds my 30 year old brother of the time he played an elephant in his primary school depiction of the tale of Noah’s Ark complete with his digital watch at the end of his arm/trunk. I think my parents had to be escorted out of that assembly hall (two by two) due to incessant giggles.
I gave a talk on Anne Frank when I first got to secondary school that won some sort of prize which I probably would not have received if I had decided to go with my original idea for a topic – the long overlooked eighties classic, Space Camp.
The best presentations I ever delivered at university were usually on the mornings after a student night simply and succinctly called ‘Vodbull’ named after the ‘uplifting’ cocktail of vodka and redbull which had the power to carry on ‘inspiring’ a drinker well into the next day. I delivered some of my most profound thoughts on the evolution of American culture whilst still hyped up on sugary booziness. I am not sure what that says about me. Or American culture.
I co-chaired my best friends’ wedding a couple of years ago. I had known both the bride and groom since nursery. They had mocked my default position as narrator for many years and yet were keen to recreate the dynamic, only in better clothes. I managed to introduce the groom’s very handsome Argentine cousin to give the toast to the State of Israel without drooling (significantly) so that was an achievement of sorts.
And then earlier this year I addressed an audience of 600 at THE FED dinner following the film appeal featuring myself and both my parents. We formed one of four stories detailing what THE FED does for our community. The focus in our particular portion of the film was on my mother, who wept as she detailed the demise of her husband as he succumbed to Alzheimer’s. I then got up and spoke for approximately three minutes. All eyes and all ears on me. I can’t really remember anything about it except how glad I was I managed to stay upright throughout. Not to employ cliché but I now know it’s cliché for a reason – my legs felt just like jelly. I was convinced they would buckle. I’m not really sure how I got through it but I did. Although standing under a spotlight on a stage in front of 600 people who have just glimpsed into your private world of tragedy may sound exposing, I felt a certain sense of detachment that kept me calm.
The evening was a success and THE FED’s CEO, Karen Phillips, was keen to spread the word further, particularly down South. There are so many young Jewish Mancunians living in London that you can barely swing a rat in Kilburn without coming across a familiar face and vowel sound.
Wheels were set in motion, spreadsheets devised and emails sent out inviting the expat Mancunian congregation down South to attend an evening generously hosted by Lord Fink. The evening was called ‘Time to talk about our Parents’ and again, I got up to speak to do exactly that.
And then I was taken somewhat by surprise. People had asked me if I was nervous in the run up to the event but I reasoned that if I had managed to speak in front of 600 people on this subject, then a small group would be a doddle. I could not have been more wrong.
Out of all the times I’ve spoken in public, this was by far the hardest. I had to dig deep to hold it together. As I spoke about how I still cannot bear to see my mum cry and the heartbreak that comes with watching your pillars of strength falter, and in my dad’s case, crumble, I started to wobble. And then I felt like I was about to break, that my resolve would collapse. Again, I am not sure how, but I just about managed to catch myself and hold myself together to make it through to the end of the speech. I then subsequently hid in the shoulder of my friend and co-organiser for the event, Abigail Rapaport, who had offered emotional support before I even knew I needed it because she’s pretty smart like that.
This time there were only approximately 30 people in the room when I spoke but I could see all of their faces. They were faces I had grown up with and all they stared back at mine intently. And they looked sad. They looked sad for me. It was an incredibly moving experience. And then I noticed one face not looking in my direction. One of my closest friends looked away half way through the speech. I sensed they too were struggling to hold it together. And it moved me even more.
Everyone in that room became a closer friend to me that night. And they became a friend to THE FED. They gathered around me, showed their support and asked one simple but crucial question – ‘how can I help?’
It may have been the hardest speech I have ever delivered. But I have never felt more proud.