The talk of the town

Do you know what it’s like to walk into a bar, recognise some faces, and then see them turn away? Do you know what it’s like to wave to someone you know across the street and have them stare back pretending not to know you? Do you know what it’s like to have your arrival punctuated by a series of muttered curses and deep sighs? I do.

A shameless hussy

I’m pretty thick-skinned. I grew up singing the childish chant ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. At the onset of puberty and upon discovering the great work of my compatriot, Oscar Wilde, I changed my mantra to ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’. It doesn’t particularly bother me that my popularity ratings have taken a beating lately. It doesn’t particularly concern me that my name is being coupled with adjectives such as ‘annoying’ or ‘irritating’. It doesn’t particularly disturb me that some people are ignoring my e-mails and not returning my calls. We Irish are made of sterner stuff. We’ve been talking ourselves in and out of trouble for generations. So when William Lower (the Canadian half of this illustrious column) stood on stage, in public, and cautioned people to be careful of me – I simply smiled. When it comes to getting my own way, I’m a shameless hussy. And when getting my own way involves a good cause, there’s very little I won’t do to fill the coffers.

Hustling for hopefuls

Yes, it’s speech slam time again – and I’m hustling for hopefuls who will take the stage and compete for the coveted title of Gift of the Gab 2012. Practically all of my conversations these days start with ‘Have you thought about speaking on stage?’ – I’m in danger of boring myself to death! It is any wonder people are avoiding me. You see, I’m on a mission to find someone in this fair city who can face Ulysses Everett McGill (George Clooney’s character in that great movie O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and have him utter that immortal line, in the deepest of southern accents: ‘I detect, like me, you’re endowed with the gift of gab’. Variously defined as (i) to talk idly or incessantly, as about trivial matters, (ii) the ability to talk readily, glibly, and convincingly, and (iii) the ability to speak easily and confidently in a way that makes people want to listen to you and believe you, the gift of the gab is said to be something that all Irish people are blessed with. Thanks to globalisation, many who have but the faintest drop of Irish blood in them can now say they have the gift, too, be they American, British, Canadian, Dutch, Estonian, French, German or Hungarian.  It respects no boundaries; recognises no colour; claims no creed. Anyone can have it.

Hoping for entertainment

But who, exactly, is anyone? And why do I care? Better still, why should you care? Over the next six months, five hopefuls will take the stage once at month in Smiley’s on St István korut. There they will deliver what’s billed as a five-minute entertaining speech on a topic of their choice. [Note: Please don’t confuse entertaining with humorous or comedic – but be prepared to laugh should the occasion call for it.] So, I hear you ask, what’s so hot about that? Nothing really – except that so many of us are called upon to deliver presentations to captive audiences at work that we confuse this ability with what it takes to captivate a paying audience with expectations and a panel of judges randomly picked for its non-existent objectivity. This is a completely different ball game.  In the second half, these same five hopefuls will deliver three-minute impromptu speeches on topics chosen by the audience. [Back to Mr Lower… ask him sometime how a man who is never at a loss for words, oral or written, could gag on a clove of garlic.] And the same panel of judges will reign supreme. This is the litmus test – the one that proves, once and for all, whether contestants have the gift of the gab.

Collecting for charity

Now, considering the scathing wonder I poured on the contestants of Szexi vagy nem in this very column last week, you are fully within your rights to turn on me and ask why I’m so brazenly asking you to take a visceral delight in the discomfort of others. [And yes, for many contestants, this is a personal challenge and they will be uncomfortable.] Isn’t this the same thing? Well, not quite. These contestants are parading their verbal wit not their pectorals. And they’re doing it for charity. All proceeds go to the Irish Hungarian Business Circle’s Give a Little campaign. Now what could be more fun than that?

First published in the Budapest Times 16/9/2011

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