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Toastmasters Anonymous: Addiction to Making Speeches

A Personal Perspective: We say what we need to hear.

Key points

  • Monologuing from atop our soapbox is a popular stress-reduction technique that can make us feel like we've got it all figured out.
  • When holding forth on something we care about, time flies for us and expands for those who have to listen to us.
  • It's therapeutic but it can be dangerous when a monologue goes to our heads or drown others out.
  • The ecstatic tunnel vision of proseletyzing may help explain how dangerous cults form.

This happens to me. I wonder if it happens to you. Time flies and space shrinks when I’m on a roll, spouting what feels like my precious pearls of wisdom. It’s my favorite kind of flow, and I go with it, racing down a long-winded, tunnel-vision path as I expand and expound on my grand and giddy perspective. If I’m interrupted by someone with even the slightest question or challenge, I’m tempted to do what I call insistent replay, starting my whole monologue over again because clearly, if anyone challenges my immaculate concept, they can’t have heard it the first time.

To those who have to sit through my ecstatic tunnel-vision monologues, it doesn’t feel racing. Time stands still for them. They want their minds back, a turn talking, or a little breathing room. But I don’t even notice. I think we’ve been talking 50/50, but only because time dilates—for them expanding, for me collapsing. I’ve been talking way more because time flies when you’ve got the floor.

It’s oppressive.

I’ve been working on putting a lid on it since it makes me a total pain in the ass to be around. I don’t want to be some tone-deaf, buzzkill mansplainer. Years ago, I gave my daughter hand signals. pinching means “wind it up soon.” A T made with two hands means “time's up.”

She doesn’t use them much, maybe because kids sponge up what their parents say, maybe because she’s humoring me, or maybe I’ve gotten better at taking the occasional breath and asking her what she thinks. My ecstatic tunnel vision is a problem I have to manage. I’d say I’ve gotten much better about it, but then that’s not mine to claim.

I didn’t recognize tunnel-vision reveries through introspection but through having to endure other people’s and then realizing that if they do it, I probably do also.

You know the feeling, sitting there enduring some long talk without a punchline, people revving out on some experience for which you had to be there, people propounding apropos nothing in particular on their brilliant insight or some meal they ate or book they read. Or maybe just holding forth at a meeting with reckless disregard for all the person/hours consumed with one’s speechifying.

Ecstatic tunnel-vision reveries serve as a clue to how any of us can turn into a pain or, worse, an absolute narcissistic, cultish, know-it-all jackasses. I suspect they’re the sensation sought by every evangelist in religion and politics, every barroom blowhard, and every long-winded date revving on having someone cute to listen to them.

Sharing confident opinions is fun. Shrinking the universe’s ungainly tangle of possibilities down to one grand idea makes us feel like geniuses. Ecstatic tunnel-vision reveries are a haven of self-certainty in a doubt-infested world.

I think we need that kind of flow. We say what we need to hear even if our audience doesn’t. It’s like giving ourselves a personal pep talk, a selfie for the soul, a mojo-replenishing pit stop.

But only within limits, or we become a total pain in the ass to others.

More from Jeremy E. Sherman Ph.D., MPP
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