Food & Drinks

How To Relieve The Stress Of Thanksgiving

The very word “Thanksgiving” implies contemplative calm and contentedness, but our national holiday—America’s second favorite according to BBC News—has become the diametric opposite. Instead of thinking about sharing turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with loving family and friends in the comfort of a cozy home, most of us are stressed out thinking about the arduous difficulties of travel, having to put up with a crazy uncle, being injured playing family touch football, eating too much, or having to stand up and give a toast.

The latter is the subject of an apocryphal study that ranks speaking before a group more stressful than death, and comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s conclusion, “Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Unfortunately, when most people stand up to speak at social events, they do it off-the-cuff and usually wind up repeating themselves or rambling, making the speech longer than someone wants to hear or causes your Great-Aunt Edna to fall asleep at the table.

There is a solution, and it is inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s bestselling book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Gladwell attributes the phenomenal success of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and The Beatles to what Gladwell describes as “The 10,000 hour rule.” In Gates’ case he spent endless hours tinkering with a computer when he was in high school; in The Beatles’ case, they spent endless hours playing in nightclubs in Germany. Unfortunately, you don’t have 10,000 hours before your turkey dinner; but you don’t need that much time! What you do need to do is to prepare and practice a little.

Preparation. Think about what you want to say in advance. Think beyond the usual obvious subjects such as thanking everyone for their participation. You can include the usual niceties but make them secondary to something fresh and new, perhaps recapping notable events that each person at the table has experienced throughout the previous year. The benefit of doing that is that it makes everyone at the table feel involved.

Write your notes and review them, once, twice, three times. You’ll see that your ideas begin to crystallize.

Practice. According to Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” In presentations that translates to what we call “Verbalization,” meaning speak the actual words in your toast or your speech aloud to an imaginary audience. Do it alone. but say it just the way you will when you are in front of your actual audience.

Many people are reluctant to Verbalize. Some claim that their speech isn’t “baked” yet, unaware that Verbalization will move the baking process along. Others feel uncomfortable because speaking aloud without an audience feels as if they are “performing.” Still others consider Verbalization too elementary.

Whatever the reason, they short-circuit the process.

Some people try a reduced or modified form of rehearsal that often lapses into a patter: “Okay, I’ll say something about Great-Aunt Edna’s trip to Italy, and then I’ll talk about Tom and Carol’s new baby…”

Sound familiar? As a form of rehearsal, this is completely unproductive. Talking about your talk is not an effective way to practice—any more than talking about tennis would be an effective way to improve your backhand.

The only way to rehearse is to speak your toast aloud in practice, just as you will in front of your actual audience. Each iteration will crystallize your ideas, each iteration will find logical connections. Each progressive iteration will improve the clarity. The more you Verbalize, the more smoothly your words will flow.

And you won’t need an Alka-Seltzer.

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