I belong to Toastmasters, a public speaking organization
that focuses on the art of speaking, thinking, and listening. I’ve been with my club for several years, and my big goal is to someday, some way, deliver a great speech. Not just a good speech, but a great speech. A JFK speech. An MLK speech. Just one. I’d be happy with one. I’m like the guy from that Twilight Zone episode where he’s a salesman who wants to deliver one last pitch before he dies, a “pitch to the angels.”
Me, I’d like to give a speech for the angels.
And I want to badly.
Luckily for me, I have a couple guys in my club who serve as fitting models whom I strive to emulate. Now don’t be fooled. When I say “emulate,” it’s really my gentle way of saying I envy their talent. Hey, I admit it. I’m guilty of a deadly sin, and of breaking that little-known commandment: “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s mojo.” Interestingly enough, though, this envy propels me. It gives me encouragement and helps fuel my desire to keep trying.
The first guy is Paul, who’s an older, cantankerous octogenarian who weaves his own brand of good-natured “complaining” into his speeches, but does so with humor and style (picture Andy Rooney, only more hip and actually funny–on second thought, don’t picture Andy Rooney).
Then there’s Mike, who made it to the world championship of public speaking a few years ago. Mike’s talent is to tell a story that will make you laugh one minute and inspire you the next with his passionate delivery. These guys make it look so easy. And for that, I will never forgive them.
On any given Thursday (the day our club meets), these two are able to speak from the heart and stir the soul. They inspire the crowd like Baptist preachers, on a mission from God to speak with authority and passion. They can challenge a listener without turning him off, and inspire him to be the best he can be.
The reason they can do this? It starts with talent, practice, and experience, of course. But there is another thing these two guys share, a key ingredient to their success. It’s that indescribable, “certain something.” That quality that makes you feel like you could listen to them all day. A talent I suspect I may not have. And for that, I am even more envious.
Believe me, I’ve tried to do what they do and work the crowd to a frenzy with my own version of that Martin Luther “Kang Thang.” I’ve tried, but sadly, I proved to be a weak imitation. Finally, I realized that I have to cultivate my own personal style based on who I am, instead of trying to mirror someone else.
I know envy is one of the seven deadlies, but when it crosses with ambition, when it helps us tend toward a better life (see St. Ambrose above), can it be all bad?
If the answer is yes, fear not, my wet noodle is ready. Excuse me while I go lash myself.