I have a little project underway that will simultaneously improve my profile while improving the Minister's speaking style. I've attended enough events by now to know the latter also needs work. The problem is two-pronged. First, the Minister only occasionally reviews her speeches prior to delivering them. Second, she won't wear her glasses. Instead, she demands that her remarks be formatted not in the standard speech font of 14 points, but in a 40-point font that wouldn't be out of place on a street sign. At this size, very few paragraphs fit on a page; even a brief greeting can run to twenty pages, while a keynote address rivals the phonebook in bulk. This does not faze the Minister. She simply heaves her portfolio onto the lectern and stumbles through the speech as fast as her long nails allow, grabbing a breath wherever there's an opportunity.
This is ridiculous," I whisper to her assistant one day during a length page-flipper in a high school auditorium. "She has to wear her glasses. Her delivery is so disjointed people are tuning out."
"You're exaggerating," Margo replies.
"A teacher in the second row is snoring."
"You'll need a lot more experience under you belt before taking this on," she advises.
So I launch Project Diminishing Font. One day, I reduce the font to 38 points, with no discernible impact on the Minister's delivery. Then I try 36, after which I ease it down half a point at a time until I have the Minister reading a 28-point font with apparent comfort. Even this has made a big difference to the amount of text I can cram onto the page. Obviously, she never needed 40 points in the first place.
The Minister slips a streamlined folder onto the lectern and starts into her speech. We're at a conference for teachers of children with disabilities sponsored by the Hearing Society and the National Institute for the Blind and she's tearing through the first page quite smoothly, considering she didn't read it in advance. By the second page, where the text is denser, she starts laboring. By the fifth, she is getting some of the words wrong and by the eighth, she keeps pausing to guess. After leaning in so close to the lectern that all we can see is the top of her head, she finally lifts the speech and holds it inches from her face, muttering into the page. Meanwhile, a teacher standing behind her struggles to simultaneously translate her remarks into sign language.
Perhaps my decision to dip to a 26-point font was a little ambitious.
At the end of the event, I scurry to the car and sink as low in the front seat as possible.
"Ask her," the Minister says to Margo in the back seat, in an eerily calm voice.
"What happened to today's speech, Libby?" Margo's voice is calm too.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what size is the font?"
"I'm not sure," I hedge.
"Give us your best guess."
"Well, it's pretty big. Maybe 32 points."
"Did you reduce it deliberately?"
Recognizing that evasion is futile, I confess. "Actually, I did. I couldn't understand why it's unusually so large. It's difficult to deliver a speech smoothly with so little text on a page. And besides…"
"Yes?" Margo asks.
"Well, flipping that many pages is very hard on a manicure."
"Libby, when you're ready to think for yourself, we'll let you know. Let's return to a 40-point font, shall we?"
Much later, the Minister says, "Margo, you don't suppose anyone thought I was mocking the people from the Institute for the Blind?"
"Of course not, Minister. You could barely tell there was a problem."
Margo, who is sitting behind me, hoofs the back of my seat.
© Yvonne Collins & Sandy Rideout