The late Bro Sir Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, certainly had his detractors but I think he was generally recognised as a great orator. In the 1950s I was privileged to hear him give a brilliant lecture on leadership – well researched, relevant, and concise. The only problem was that he had given the same lecture to us in the previous year. Whilst being a brilliant speaker, he had (or his staff had) failed to do the necessary homework: the audience, content and appropriateness. (We still enjoyed it a second time, nevertheless.)
Worshipful Masters, and sometimes their delegates for commemorative addresses such as for ANZAC Day or a Haggis Night, will give an address preceding a toast. Worshipful Masters and Installing Officers will also make a longish address about the candidate or the newly installed Master before proposing a toast. Or a Worshipful Master will make an address on the occasion of his “last night”. All these occasions require substantial preparation, the things that the late Bro Sir Bob failed to do thoroughly on the occasion that I mentioned. It would reflect an enormous capability or arrogance (usually the latter) to believe that justice can be done to the occasion without considerable preparation. The shortness, hopefully, of such addresses has the same rules which apply to writing letters.
Remember the comment attributed to the Frenchman, Blaise Pascal (1623 to 1662), “I appologise that this letter is so long – I lacked the time to make it short”. Or better still, “Vigorous writing is concise” (Strunk – I still use his ‘Elements of Style’ as a reference), and “Brevity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare).
Consider the nature of your audience, the three principal messages to get across, how to attract the listeners’ attention – the “hook” (a quotation, an anecdote, or some statistics), and the time available (the theme of this page would take more than 5 minutes to deliver properly). You must also work out how to connect with the audience and how to keep the material relevant, interesting and concise. Remember the adage “Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you have told them” – that, unlike reading, they will only have one chance to capture what you say.
In a Lodge you should be generous in your approach and tell them what they want to hear but do not go “over the top”. Be forward looking and not critical. Talk to them as a Brother without a trace of hubris. “Read” the audience as you go and look for faces that are interested and responsive – talk to them. Emphasize the points that they like. If someone gives you personal notes, be prepared to cull them severely as much is likely to be off the mark and not relevant.
I remember the late Bro Sir Bob in another lecture on public speaking saying the he always pictured the three main points of his address on the back wall and addressed those points. My preference is to memorize an address. There are no short cuts and your Brethren deserve the best. Don’t “waffle”!
Fraternal best wishes to all