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    Miss Conduct

    Can you hear me now?

    Tips on effective public speaking. Plus, a mom whose children ignore her birthday.

    > I sometimes have to give talks to the volunteer group to which I belong. My voice isn’t very strong, and inevitably someone will shout out, “Speak louder!” Usually it is one particular person. This is embarrassing, and it’s come to the point that I am thinking of passing on my speaker role to someone else. At one time I did a lot of public speaking, and no one complained. Can you offer any suggestions?

    Anonymous / Charlestown

    Yes, indeed, but those suggestions would depend on the actual situation. I can easily imagine a Mr./Ms. Softly (that’s you) being bullied by Mr./Ms. Speakup, who uses a ginned-up vocal deficiency to silence your ideas — which are far superior to Speakup’s in the first place and probably the cause of Speakup’s unspeakable jealousy, the snake. Just as easy to imagine? You as a well-meaning person who nevertheless drives the rest of the group batty with long whispery monologues interrupted only when the desperate glances of the others compel Speakup, once again, to plead for comprehensibility.

    So which is it? You don’t know, of course.


    So ask a trusted fellow volunteer. Is everyone struggling to hear you? Or is Speakup bent on silencing you under the guise of wanting to hear you better?

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    There are a number of workarounds to a soft voice. People with compromised hearing can sit up front. You can get a mike, obviously, which can be surprisingly helpful even in small spaces. Hand out bullet points so that people can follow along. Make sure you are visible to everyone — if you are a woman, wear lipstick so that people can see your mouth move. Ask for participation — “Here’s a wonderful letter that came in last week. Mr. Speakup, will you read it to the group?’’ But these are only tactics. You need someone who knows the personalities and politics of your group to advise you on strategy.

    > My grown children do not acknowledge my birthday, unless you count a brief text or phone message. No cards, no gifts, though I send both to my kids and their spouses. I feel deeply offended on every event that is not acknowledged or spent elsewhere. My feelings have been made clear to them with no change in their behavior. Time for me to stop acknowledging their special days and just concentrate on my grandchildren?

    S.M. / Ipswich

    Yes, it is. Will doing that make you feel better? I hope so. I hope that you can take the position, as your children seem to have done, that birthdays are for kids and adults get, at most, a virtual high-five.

    There’s a difference between giving up and letting go, though. You need to let go of the birthday thing, not just give it up. Before your next birthday — a good three weeks before — call your kids and let them know that this year you’re not expecting anything. The Birthday Game is done. Tell them you forgive them for all the birthdays when they let you down. Give them a chance to apologize for not showing you love the way you want them to. They’ll be grateful for the chance to apologize for all the times they hurt your feelings — as long as they know that they won’t have to apologize again.


     Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

    NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at And get advice live during a chat with Robin Abrahams this Wednesday, February 20, 2013, from noon to 1 p.m.