How to relieve Thanksgiving stress

The very word “Thanksgiving” implies contemplative calm and contentment, but our national holiday, America’s second favorite according to BBC News, has become the complete opposite. Instead of thinking about sharing turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie with loving family and friends in the comfort of a cozy home, most of us are stressed about the arduous hardships of traveling, having to put up with a crazy uncle, getting injured playing family soccer, eating too much, or having to stand up and toast.

The latter is the subject of an apocryphal study that ranks speaking in front of a group more stressful than death, and comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s conclusion, “Sounds good? This means that for the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off being at the coffin than doing the eulogy.”

Unfortunately, when most people get up to speak at social events, they do so on the spur of the moment and often end up repeating themselves or rambling, making the speech longer than someone wants to hear or making Great-Aunt Edna cringe. I fell asleep on the table.

There is a solution, and it’s inspired by Malcom Gladwell’s best-selling book, Outliers: The Success Story. Gladwell attributes the phenomenal success of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and The Beatles to what Gladwell describes as “The 10,000 Hour Rule.” In Gates’ case, he spent endless hours playing on a computer when he was in high school; in the case of The Beatles, they spent endless hours playing in nightclubs in Germany. Unfortunately, you don’t have 10,000 hours before your turkey dinner; but you don’t need that much time! What you do need to do is prepare and practice a bit.

Preparation. Think about what you want to say ahead of time. Think beyond the usual obvious topics, like thanking everyone for participating. You can include the usual niceties, but make them secondary to something fresh and new, perhaps recapping notable events each person at the table has experienced over the past year. The benefit of doing that is that it makes everyone at the table feel involved.

Write your notes and review them, once, twice, three times. You will see that your ideas begin to crystallize.

Practice. According to Vince Lombardi, the legendary football coach, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” In presentations that translates into what we call “Verbalization,” which means saying the actual words in your toast or speech out loud to an imaginary audience. Do it alone. but say it the way you will when you’re in front of your real audience.

Many people are reluctant to Verbalize. Some claim that their speech is not “baked” yet, not knowing that Verbalization will advance the baking process. Others are uncomfortable because speaking out loud without an audience feels like they are “acting.” Still others consider Verbalization too elementary.

Whatever the reason, they short-circuit the process.

Some people try a reduced or modified form of essay that often turns into babbling: “Okay, I’ll say something about Great-Aunt Edna’s trip to Italy, and then I’ll talk about Tom and Carol’s new baby… “

Sounds familiar? As a form of essay, this is completely unproductive. Talking on your talk is not an effective way to practice, any more than talking on tennis would be an effective way to improve your backhand.

The only way to rehearse is to say your toast out loud in practice, just like you will in front of your real audience. Each iteration will crystallize your ideas, each iteration will find logical connections. Each progressive iteration will improve clarity. The more you verbalize, the more fluidly your words will flow.

And you won’t need an Alka-Seltzer.

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