I come before you today to speak on a subject that's close to my heart--and sometimes my threshold of pain. Speeches.

Perhaps those who go faithfully to business-club and association functions are hardened to whatever they hear as well as eat. Or they're mainly intent on hustling business or getting a free lunch at any cost.

But what about those of us who are more selective about our attendance? Who choose on the basis of promising speakers and topics, and seek to learn or be inspired?

We're doomed to something worse than perpetual disappointment: occasional pleasure. We hear just enough good speakers to lure us back for more of the bad ones.

If I knew how to improve this batting average, I'd tell you. But all I can offer are three tips for improving your listening average instead.

1. Sit at an inconspicuous table near an exit.

2. Bring a pen and a blank sheet of paper in case you can't follow tip No. 1.

3. Go back to work (via the exit or the sheet of paper) if the speaker begins in any of these fashions:

"I wish I could tell you today about the most exciting new thing we're doing, but this is privileged information for now. What I can discuss . . . ."

"First of all, I bring you the most profound apologies from Mr. Big. He dearly wanted to be here in person to deliver the speech I am about to read on his behalf."

"There's some background I have to cover to bring you up to speed on this. After that there'll be a coffee break . . . and then the fascinating part."

"I wish I were better prepared for this occasion, but please bear with me."

"Much of what I'm going to say may sound like a commercial for the Doe Corporation, but . . . "

"I appreciate that glowing introduction for such a modest toiler in this vineyard. Of course it only touched on the extent of my involvement in this field. It goes back to my doctoral thesis, which created such a stir among knowledgeable circles. And 48 of my 62 published monographs deal specifically with . . . "

"Coming to your fair city is always a pleasure. It's not like the old story about Philadelphia. There was this contest, and first prize . . . "

"In the time we took to eat lunch, there were 283 new victims of . . . "

"The best parts of my presentation are the film and slides. Unfortunately, they are still in my suitcase, which the airline lost this morning."

"I don't need this microphone! They'll hear me in the next room without it!"

"Some of you probably know a lot more about this subject than I do."

"Believe me, I'll see that you get out of here by 2:15, even if I have to skip half of my speech."

"Tell me, George, what did I do to deserve this--having to follow such a terrific speaker? I can't come close to matching . . . "