The Commerce Journal


May 27, 2014

Lessons learned from decades of making speeches

COMMERCE — I’ve been making speeches to various groups since 1973 when I made my first chamber of commerce speech in Dumas, Texas.

Of all the things I do to make a living (newspaper column, radio program, producing commercials and documentaries), I guess speaking is the most fun. It is fantastic to look out at a room full of people and see them smiling and laughing. I love to see lots of teeth as I glance at a happy audience from the podium or stage. All my speeches are about Texas humor and I’ve spoken in nearly a dozen states and four foreign countries.

It’s not quite correct to call them speeches. They are more like audio presentations. I use the voices of some of the humorous people I‘ve interviewed the past 45 years. In a 35-minute speech I’ll use about 15 recorded voices of people telling stories or mentioning first person experiences. I do a 55-minute one-man show that is the same format as speeches, only longer, with more voices. Most of the time the audience doesn’t know where the other voices are coming from. I’ll introduce a segment, then another voice comes over the PA system. After a speech I’ve actually had people ask me if I do all the voices.

The recorded voices are coming from an iPod my wife Susan is operating. Usually she sits near me at a speech or near the stage when I do my one-man show. She has just been operating the equipment a few years. I used to do it. I like it this way better. When I first started speaking I used jokes. When I was asked to speak at a Petroleum Short Course at Texas Tech in the mid ‘70s, I knew oilmen would be in the audience; so I got a bunch of my interviews with funny guys in the oil patch, edited them down and put together a program. It went over big. I went home and created a program of humorous Texans from all over the state. My first audience with this new show was my wife and two sons in our living room. They laughed all the way through it. I was encouraged and have used the voices ever since.

We have had some experiences. Once the electricity went off at a chamber banquet in Van Horn. Someone brought in a generator. Another time we made a speech on an outdoor stage that had a street in front of it. The audience was in pickup tailgates and lawn chairs across the street. Occasionally a vehicle would pass in front of the stage and the driver would wave and shout greetings to his friends. In Lubbock I was giving a presentation to a historical group and they had come from a party with free-flowing alcohol. I usually love a well-oiled audience, but this one was rowdy. Nobody was listening. About 20 minutes into my speech the organizer came up and asked me how much longer I was going to be on stage. I think if she had a hook she would have yanked me off. My most recent speech was to the Texas Retired Teachers Association’s annual convention in Dallas. I discovered the shirt I had chosen to wear for the speech had French cuffs but I had no cuff links with me. Susan whipped out the dental floss, threaded it through the cuff link openings and none of the 1,100 people in the audience knew anything about my customized cufflinks.

Tumbleweed Smith lives in Big Spring with his wife, Susan. Contact him at 432 263-3813 or


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