I wrote this speech for Toastmasters. I don’t have a video of it.

Beta Features – The Speechwriting Pen

I don’t like conflict. I tend to avoid it, do you? Raise your hand if you agree. I’ve always shied away from conflict in my life. It just happens, I don’t know why.

I had my neighbour bringing me her cat every time she went off to visit her boyfriend in Crete. She just dumped her cat on me. “You can take care of Bishop, right? Thank you so much!” And she just dashed away.

I like cats. And I really like Bishop, too. But I’m a bit allergic to cat fur! I can pet them for a bit but then I have to go wash my hands or else I start sneezing and my eyes get all red and irritated.

So off she went to her boyfriend almost every other week and I was left taking care of Bishop, and I was sneezing and feeling miserable all weekend. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t really rest, and I just never seemed to be able to confront her and tell her that I couldn’t take care of him and that she should find someone else.

I’ve been a Toastmaster for a year now. Every week during our meeting, my mentor would keep asking me about my Icebreaker speech. I never say no to anyone, so of course I said I would do it. And every time I froze up, so I made up some excuse at the very last minute. Well, the times when I suffered from cat allergies were legitimate. But the other times, I have to admit, I just didn’t have the courage to speak in front of people.

After it had been months of not doing the Icebreaker, my mentor came to talk to me one day. “George,” he said, “I think I have something that might help in your situation.”

“What is it?”

“Have you heard about the Toastmasters Beta Features? They’re brand new.”

“No, what’s that?”

“Well, just give me your phone.” So I handed him my phone and he showed the Toastmasters site to me. “Here it is, in your profile settings. See? There’s a check box. You have to enable it.”

I looked, and there it was. “Enable Beta Features? Warning, might be unstable.” So I checked the box.

“Great, now hit save. Good.”

“Now what?” I asked my mentor.

“Now we wait for the pen.”

“What pen?”

“It’s a special pen. It connects with the Toastmasters site. A smartpen.”

“To do what?”

“It uses cutting edge machine learning. Do you know ChatGPT? The Artificial Intelligence tool everybody’s talking about? Well it reads what you’re writing, and vibrates a bit in the right direction to help you write the next word. It can help anyone write a speech, easy as pie.”

“Really?”

“Yes. But you have to write it by hand, using the pen. Otherwise it doesn’t work.”

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“Okay.” I said and went home. Next week, I got a package from Toastmasters. I opened it, excited. And there was just a box and a pen. It had a LED light on top when you turned it on.

I tried writing my speech by hand. I really did, but nothing came to mind, so I put it away.

The next weekend, I was certain my neighbour was about to knock on my door. I had learned her dating schedule by heart, you see.

So I had an epiphany.  I couldn’t confront her, so why not sit down and write what I wanted to say beforehand? And I did. I picked up the smartpen, I turned it on, and as soon as I started writing it all came rushing out. I wrote my arguments beforehand and I was ready to go.

Knock-knock. Meow. I opened the door, and there she was, with Bishop wrapped around her feet. I interrupted her. “I’m sorry. I can’t take care of Bishop anymore. I have allergies, and while I adore him and would love to catsit for you, it messes up my schedule too much. You’ll have to find someone else.”

She picked up her cat. “Well, why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I don’t know.”

And just like that, issue resolved! Conflict, resolution.

The pen worked!

Excited, I went back inside and started writing my Icebreaker speech. It was Friday, and by Tuesday I had it finished. I even managed to find the time to practice a couple of times.

Tuesday afternoon, I went to our Toastmasters meeting. “Will you be giving your icebreaker speech today?” my mentor asked.

“Yes, I will!” I said. And I gave my speech. It was a bit scary but I did it! And then I received applause and that felt really good. Then the evaluator said I did a good job.

All because of the smartpen. I gave a few more speeches after that, advanced in my path.

And then I lost it, somehow. I searched for it everywhere, but I couldn’t find my pen. Agitated, I called my mentor to send me a replacement or something.

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said calmly. “The pen is not real.”

“How can it not be real, I used it and wrote my speech.”

“It’s just a light. Doesn’t do anything. I lied about all of it.”

“But the website? The beta features?”

“I made a fake site, that’s what I showed you.”

“So, I’m the one that wrote my speech?”

“Yup. You’re Dumbo the elephant, and the pen was your magic feather. You don’t need it. You can fly on your own.”

Ever since then, I write my speeches by hand. I like to pretend I’m holding my magic pen and it works every single time.

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Categories: Fiction

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