I was ten years old when I got my first ventriloquist dummy, a cheap Charlie McCarthy doll that had a string out the back of his neck. Each time I pulled the string to open his mouth, his head jerked back like he was getting rear-ended in a forty-car pile up.  It’s really hard to create the illusion a dummy is real when he’s convulsing like Lindsey Lohan on drugs.

From the first time I watched my older brother, Bob, bring his wooden sidekick, Wally, to life, I wanted to be a vent.  I tried again when I was sixteen with a slightly more expensive version – a Danny O’Day dummy.  The girl I was trying to impress at church camp watched my one and only performance and subsequently repented of everything real and imagined she had done to have deserved such torture

But I was not to be undone. When I was 25, I started to pastor at a small church in a little town in Kansas and thought a ventriloquist dummy would be a great way to communicate.  I bit the bullet and bought a dummy that not only had a mouth that moved, but eyes and eyebrows, too!  The guy that made him- Craig Lovik- called him Theodore Bump. I renamed him, “Skyler Hays.”  He wound up with that name simply because I could those two words without moving my lips.

Then I bought a “How to Learn Ventriloquism” cassette series from Clinton Detweiller, the grandpa of ventriloquists everywhere.  I stuck a pencil between my teeth and began my foray into speaking without moving my lips.  I performed initially in churches, banquets, camps, and schools. I then travelled professionally for a few years performing in schools across the Midwest with “edutainment” routines I wrote on drug abuse resistance, literacy, bullying, and conflict resolution.

Here is what the little dummy taught me about public speaking:

  1. Assume people do NOT hear everything you say
    1. There are five letters in the alphabet you have to put your lips or lips and teeth together to day.  B- F- M- P- V
    2. A vent uses a trick called “sound substation” and replaces those letters with others that are similar:

i.     B is replaced with D

ii.     F is replaced with “eth”

iii.     M is replaced with “ng”

iv.     P is replaced with T

v.     V is replaced with “thee”

  1. The vent assumes your hearing will automatically translate those sounds
  2. The human ear and mind will try very hard to translate speech impediments – crowds are very forgiving
  3. If you have a smile on your face, you can say things that normally would get you slapped
  4. People will remember more if you entertain them
  5. It’s easier to speak to a thousand people than it is to speak to ten
  6. Children are the best audiences
  7. Middle-school audiences are the worst
  8. Always keep moving around- staying in one spot bores people
  9. Often change the tone of your voice by playing another character and people pay more attention

10. Tell a story- you can salvage the worst speech in the world if you tell a story to close it

11. Never speak when the audience is still eating

12. Be ready for critics who say, “I saw your lips move!”

Have you ever watched Terry Fator or Jeff Dunham? What public speaking tricks could you learn from  them?

You can be a great public speaker! After all, if a dummy can do it…….