Ottawa Bureaucrat receives Award for Bravery

Click Here for full test of
 the Speech in French

See Story in -  April 2013
Toastmasters International Magazine

.I. have never thought of myself as particularly heroic or courageous.  “Brave” and “Bravery” are terms I reserve for firefighters, frontline soldiers, people who bicycle in winter, and politicians who speak publicly without prior sanction and media lines.

But last fall  at a special event in Ottawa (October 4, 2012), I was applauded and congratulated as I shuffled diffidently up to the front of the room to accept what was considered, by some in attendance, to be an Award for Bravery.

Excerpt from One-Contestant
Contest Program

I had just delivered a speech to a group of strangers on my plans to do  something very, very personal - well, at least, seemingly so - – in trembling, halting French.   The event was nominally the 2012 Ottawa Area 33 Toastmaster’s Speech Contest, but, for me, it was not primarily a trial of my speech-giving skills.

My presentation was written in French with the premeditated object of amplifying my comfort in the language that has been the bane and pain of much of my government career.   After making the impetuous commitment to publicly present a speech in French, I decided that a good way to mitigate any embarrassment, awkwardness, or missteps would be to admit at the opening that French is not my first language and that I was prone to errors in grammar and pronunciation.

Molière worried about the implications
 for the French Language
This thinking led me to craft a speech based entirely upon an Anglophone’s mispronunciation of a key word.   As my day job is linked to corporate governance in a large government organization, I found it easy to craft a presentation around the pretentious buzz words, concepts, and rhetoric of organizational change, organizational design, organizational culture, organizational reorganization, and organizational organograms.

There is a word in French that sounds and looks like the English word “Organization” – but in the context within which I was presenting, the correct term is, at least in Canadian French circles, “organisme.” 

This is not a particularly easy word to pronounce, and if you assault the task hastily, it can sound like another French word – another “O” word – “orgasme.”

My speech in French – which formally promotes a new governance model, new type of organizational structure, and new “organisme-orgasme” can be accessed via the link at the bottom of this blog post.   Francophones, particularly civil servants who have had to gnaw on their lips and gnash their teeth listening to executives and politicians mangle their language in official meetings and events, think it’s funny and found the license to laugh at someone officiously and purposely mispronouncing the word “organisme” to be therapeutic.

A few days before last night’s contest, I learned that other contestants had either opted out or selected the English speech contest stream leaving me the sole participant in the French contest.

“Unless you go over time or screw up your registration form,” a colleague observed. “You're going to win a French Speech Contest - that's crazy.”

Molière twisted around in his tomb.

Later I learned that I would be out of town on the day set for the next level of competition and thus positioned to retire undefeated as a French-speech giver. Heading to the contest, I told an old friend, an army veteran who knew of my linguistic limitations and who has had prior experience with bizarre twists of fate, that I would likely win the contest for my “orgasme-organisme” speech by default.

“So, you are not really winning anything,” he said noting the substance of my speech, my weakness in the language, and the looming one-contestant contest event. “You’re just being recognized for a really odd kind of bravery.”

For text of  the Speech in French

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