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Conjuror: You know that story of the great statesman who was heard by his own gardener saying, as he paced the garden, "Had I, Mr. Speaker, received the smallest intimation that I could be called upon to speak this evening...."

Whenever someone publicly claims not to be able to give a speech, or talks about how ineloquent or rough-spoken they are, they're lying. Run for the hills, or resign yourself to giving them anything they want.

This Stock Phrase can be traced as far back as Plato, who put it in the mouth of Socrates at his trial.[1]

This is the standard tactic of the Simple Country Lawyer, and often leads naturally into a Rousing Speech. Mirror Monologue or other technique can be used to show them practicing beforehand -- often with the line about not being able to give a speech.

Sometimes the character is overheard rehearsing, including, of course, this line.

See also Large Ham Radio, where people seem remarkably at home giving a radio broadcast, and Throwing Out the Script, which can lend a similar air of authenticity but tends to be more sincere.

Examples of Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking include:


Comics

  • Destiny of the Endless makes this claim in The Sandman (Desire, who is present, mimics him and mockingly adds "or speaking at all"). Other characters gradually realize that Destiny still isn't really speaking publicly; he's reading publicly. It comes in handy to have a book containing everything that is, was, and will be.

Film

  Major "King" Kong: Well, boys, I reckon this is it -- nuclear combat toe to toe with the Roosskies. Now look, boys, I ain't much of a hand at makin' speeches, but I got a pretty fair idea that something doggone important is goin' on back there. And I got a fair idea the kinda personal emotions that some of you fellas may be thinkin'. Heck, I reckon you wouldn't even be human bein's if you didn't have some pretty strong personal feelin's about nuclear combat. I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a-countin' on you and by golly, we ain't about to let 'em down. I tell you something else, if this thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I'd say that you're all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing's over with. That goes for ever' last one of you regardless of your race, color or your creed. Now let's get this thing on the hump - we got some flyin' to do.

  • In The Last Unicorn, one of the songs is sung by Prince Lir, wherein he professes his love simply for Amalthea. In the first stanza he says he can't write, which makes sense, but in the next he says that he can't write poetry or music either - while singing a solo in a song that rhymes.
  • The schoolteacher uses this in Blazing Saddles, right before reading off a blistering telegram to the governor regarding the new sheriff.

Literature

  • The Trope Namer, as mentioned earlier, is of course Plato in his Apology of Socrates, where he has Socrates use this to preface his speech defending himself before the Athenian court. Socrates begins by saying that just as they would forgive a foreigner for speaking before them with an accent, he is so "foreign" to public speaking that they should forgive him if his rhetoric isn't very flowery. As you'd expect, an epic and eloquent rhetorical smackdown is about to ensue. He loses anyway.
  • Cicero also has a habit of doing this, or in some cases he will play down his education altogether, as in Pro Archia.
  • In The Bible, when the Lord tells Moses to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, Moses asks how he is to do this when he cannot speak well. This is often taken to mean that Moses had a speech impediment. God tells Moses that his brother Aaron will do the public speaking for him.

 Tevye: As Abraham said, "I am a stranger in a strange land... "

Mendel: Moses said that.

Tevye: Ah. Well, as King David said, "I am slow of speech, and slow of tongue."

Mendel: That was also Moses.

Tevye: For a man who was slow of tongue, he talked a lot.

  • The novel version of The Force Unleashed multimedia project subverts this. When the apprentice joins a meeting of a group of Rebel Leaders, the narration notes that public speaking is as familiar to him as the Whirling Kavadango Dance. That is, he's heard of it and probably could identify it, but that's it. And so he doesn't say anything.
  • In The Fionovar Tapestry Matt has to debate another dwarf and mentions that he isn't much of one for speeches, and this is true in comparison with his opponent. However dwarves see words and debate as extremely important, so his speech is still very good. And both of them manage to infuriate the judge, Matt by bringing in a prop for effect, the other by speaking a second time to refute Matt's claims.
  • Davos Seaworth of A Song of Ice and Fire uses this trope almost every time he speaks. So far he's proven to be one of the series most influential politicians and diplomats.
  • In The Stand, Stu essentially invokes this when he's modering the big Free Zone meeting in the auditorium. He doesn't say the line, but he talks about how nervous he is and asks them to bear with him and they'll get through it. Shows up in The Film of the Book too.

Live Action TV

  • Blackadder the Third. Prince George hires two actors to help him prepare to give a speech:

 Mossop: All great orators roar before commencing their speeches. It is the way of things. Ah, Mr. Keanrick, from your Hamlet, please.

Keanrick: Hh-hmm (orates) OOOOoooohhhhh To be or not to be.

Mossop: From your Julius Caesar.

Keanrick: OoooHHHHOOOOHHH Friends, Romans, countrymen...

...

Keanrick: Now shall we try putting it all together?

George: Right. (adopts heroic stance, screws up his face) RRROOOAAAAHHHHHHHH-- (casual voice) Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking...

    • In all fairness, the speech was written by Blackadder, who is obviously much more eloquent than the Prince.
  • In Doctor Who serial The Horns of Nimon, the Fourth Doctor is being chased through a building, and runs onto a stage, pausing at the podium to say "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I stand before you desperate to find the exit." He then goes down into the audience and starts talking to them, as the guards chasing him run past across the stage and out.
  • Firefly: Jayne, when forced to give a public speech for the "Jayne's Day Parade" (It Makes Sense in Context, though that's not how Simon sees it), starts off with "I'm no good with words. Don't...don't use em much, myself." This is pretty much true, but he makes a surprisingly good effort (for Jayne, anyway). Then, when he's exposed as a fraud and someone's killed, he gives another, much more impromptu speech that's also more heartfelt (and Jerkass-ish) and completely goes against what he said before, but is much more awesome all the same.
  • Hilariously averted in Parks and Recreation episode "Go Big or Go Home".

  Ron: "I am not usually one for speeches -- so goodbye."

  • Played with in Stargate SG-1: When Carter gets promoted to major, O'Neill steps up to the podium and begins a speech with the words "Normally, I am a man of very few words", and gets unexpectedly teleported to a starship immediately after those nine words. Now standing alone, watching out from the advanced spaceship's window, he still continues speaking for a few words ("and in conclusion, I would like to say"), until he notices something is odd.
  • Parodied on the Saturday Night Live sketch "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer". He'd begin every summation by saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm just a caveman. I fell into some ice, and was later revived by some of your scientists." He would then go on about how unaccustomed he was to the entire modern world, until the jury found in his favor out of sympathy.
    • Also used onother occasions. When a flight attendant told him he couldn't have any more drinks he used "I'm just a caveman and I'm terrified of being inside your big metal bird ... so bring me another Rob Roy."

Theater

  • Shakespeare loved this trope:
    • Mark Antony says this during his funeral oration in Julius Caesar: "I am no orator, as Brutus is." He then proceeds to completely eclipse Brutus' previous speech; his claim that Brutus is an orator is one of the many Stealth Insults in his speech; he's hinting to the crowd that Brutus (who had previously convinced them that killing Caesar was the right thing to do) was a great orator and thus was just fooling them with propaganda.
    • In Henry V, the title character courts Princess Katherine through a series of long, flowery speeches, in which he describes himself as a plain honest soldier rather than a courtier.
    • In Richard III, Gloucester rants to his political enemies about how unpopular he is, "because I cannot flatter and speak fair." One scene earlier, he just convinced the widow of someone he murdered to fall in love with him through sheer force of personality. At the victim's funeral!
    • The title character of Othello also uses this one. Before he explains how he met Desdemona, he goes on for ten or twelve lines about how he's just a plainspoken man of action who can't speak well enough to do himself much good.
    • Polonius in Hamlet goes on a lot about how brief he's going to make his speeches and how he's not going to use fancy rhetoric, until the queen finally snaps at him to get to the point.
    • Berowne, in Loves Labours Lost is actually called out on this by another character - he makes a speech about how he's going to give up all this wordplay and express his love plainly, then goes on to say "My love to thee is sound, sans crack or flaw," to which she interrupts "Sans 'sans,' I pray you!" - sans being french for "without," and something of an affectation of posh speech.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's Magic, the conjuror tells the heroine the story of a gardner who found his master in the garden addressing the flowers for practice, to explain his own behavior there; he was practicing his patter.
  • Parodied in HMS Pinafore in 'common sailor' Ralph Rackstraw's speech to Josephine:

 Rackstraw: I am poor in the essence of happiness, lady -- rich only in never-ending unrest. In me there meet a combination of antithetical elements which are at eternal war with one another. Driven hither by objective influences -- thither by subjective emotions — wafted one moment into blazing day, by mocking hope -- plunged the next into the Cimmerian darkness of tangible despair, I am but a living ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms. I hope I make myself clear, lady?

Josephine: Perfectly. (aside) His simple eloquence goes to my heart.

Web Original

  • Parodied in the Homestar Runner toon A Death-Defying Decemberween. Right before performing his death-defying stunt, Homestar announces "I'm not very good at speeches..." After an awkward pause, he launches right into the stunt without any further words.
  • Played with by The Nostalgia Critic, in the one-year anniversary brawl; trying to give an inspirational speech to his "forces" before the brawl commences, he laments his inability to do so.

 NC: People, I'm no good at speeches...and well, frankly, that's all I've got. *tries to think of inspirational speeches from movies that the fighters may remember* So! Buck up, drink milk, stay in school, and don't do drugs!

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons:
    • "If I could just say a few words ... I'd be a better public speaker."
    • Averted in "Simpson Tide":

 "Captain Tenille wishes to address you!"

"I'm a man of few words. [pause] Any questions?"

    • Used well in "Trash of the Titans"

 Ray Patterson: Oh gosh. You know, I'm not much on speeches, but it's so gratifying to- (sighs) leave you wallowing in the mess you've made. You're screwed, thank you, bye.

Moe: He's right. He ain't much on speeches.

  • In Daria, the title character has these last words to say to the host of characters at Lawndale High:

 Um, thank you. I'm not much for public speaking. Or much for speaking. Or, come to think of it, much for the public. And I'm not very good at lying. So let me just say that, in my experience, high school sucks. If I had to do it all over again, I'd have started advanced placement classes in preschool so I could go from eighth grade straight to college. However, given the unalterable fact that high school sucks, I'd like to add that if you're lucky enough to have a good friend and a family that cares it doesn't have to suck quite as much.

  • Futurama: A character hitting on Leela says, "I've never been much good with words, which is why I find myself in such a delicate conundrum."

Video Games

Real Life

  • Frederick Douglass, before making a speech at an anti-slavery convention, apologized for being ignorant from being in slavery so long. He then proceeded to bring the house down with an eloquent, moving, and well-reasoned speech. In his case, he was just unsure of himself and being modest, and "ignorant" meant that he was unfamiliar with say, Aristotle or Homer or Milton. As the companion of his owners' children (and possibly his owners' child himself -- a suspicion he relates in his autobiography) he got a very good education until he was old enough to work in the fields.

    There's a theory that Douglass was using Obfuscating Stupidity when he would say things like this (as he often did), to ensure that his white audience wouldn't just walk out or ignore everything he would say by insulting their "intelligence" by claiming to be an "intelligent black man" - something which simply did not exist as far as many whites of the time were concerned.
  • The sentiment has been there probably since the beginning of oratory. Lysias (who made a living out of writing speeches for court) was accusing Eratosthenes of killing his brother during his reign as one of the Thirty Tyrants of Athens:

  Lysias: Often, I am reduced to great despair, because I might unskillfully make an inexperienced and useless accusation on behalf of my brother.

  • G. K. Chesterton frequently apologized for his tendency to mumble and to digress randomly -- but neither these nor his tinny voice prevented him from being a brilliant orator and debater.
  • After being silent in films for many years, Harpo Marx would often give a hilarious speech beginning with these exact words.

Notes

  1. The Apologia, which depicts Socrates' trial, mentions that Plato was actually there, so it's possible that it's something Socrates actually said.
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