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Why I shy away from giving talks

THOSE who speak do not know.

Those who know do not speak. That's one translation of the first lines of the Tao Te Ching and, given its clarity, probably better than the original.

It hints at keeping one's counsel, of guarding — as the skald had it in Beowulf — one's word-hoard well, of the strong, silent type. But it also suggests we should not trust the verbally eloquent or effusive.

No-one more eloquent or effusive than former Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose equally former speechwriter has suggested schools should devote time to developing speaking skills.

Jeez. A book-loving, knowledge-seeking boy, I hated nearly all my classes at school, and now believe secondary education should be scrapped. But, hey, maybe that's just me. It is? Oh.

But, of all the classes you could have given me, learning how to speak would have been the worst. I hated and feared Drama for similar reasons, and an English class in which we had to give a speech to the mob caused me sleepless nights beforehand.

In the end, my oration on the family budgerigar dulled the senses of those who heard it to such an extent that I was back in my seat before they noticed it was even over.

But perhaps Peter Hyman, the former speechwriter under advisement, and now a free school headteacher, has a point. I should have been made to speak more. You'd have had to drag me out of my shell (where I still live contentedly), mind, and to do something about the awful blushing that has cursed most of my life.

Mr Hyman says learning to speak is a "moral issue" because it's crucial to success in life, and I suppose he could point at me and say: "Look what happened to beamer boy there."

It has certainly hampered my career. I sometimes get invited on to the radio and lately, to my shame and secret joy, have taken to telling programme-makers by email that I have a speech impediment. Which, in a sense, I do.

At the same time, I've begun to babble. Working from home, sometimes I don't see anyone for days and, when I do, a tide of gabbing spews forth.

At college, I was famed for not speaking and was frequently threatened with expulsion for failing to attend seminars. Perhaps I was wrong to be so reticent. I just do not know.

Contextual targeting label: 
Education

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