Good speakers are good people who speak well
Last week I was invited to speak down at the National Speech and Debate Tournament in Salt Lake City, Utah. But I wasn't there for me; I was there for my high school speech coaches, Pam and Joe Wycoff, who were being given a much-deserved honor. Twenty-one years ago (what? that can't be right, except that it is) I won the National Championship in Original Oratory, which - if I'm to be totally honest - set me on a path to where I am today. Over the last 30+ years, Pam and Joe Wycoff have nurtured and groomed dozens of national champions - hundreds of national competitors - and thousands of capable and skilled speakers. And so when I was contacted by the National Speech and Debate Association to come join them to surprise my coaches and introduce them to re-name the category of Original Oratory after them, I was so moved. I know I am merely one of hundreds who could share about the impact they've had, and I was so honored to be in that moment with them.
Can I just say? It is really fun to speak in front of people who appreciate the craft of speaking. Yes, the expectations are higher (a good challenge) - and yes, when it goes well you hear very specific feedback (an audience full of coaches... it's not just "good job"... ). And the moment was made more special because everyone in that room understood how deserving these two people are.
Someone said to me, "You must have spent a lot of time on that speech." That's a compliment, for sure - but the truth is that two days before I left I still hadn't put words to paper. I had started to panic. How on earth do I do them justice? But I ran across a nugget of wisdom from my old speech folder I found (that's a whole nother story, I promise you) - and it said, "A good speaker is a good person who speaks well."
It struck me. Yes, this is true. Why? Because an audience can feel it, and if we show our hearts - if we allow ourselves to be truly seen - well, that's the essence of good speaking.
And it is the standard I use - inspired by Pam and Joe - when I am coaching and working with a speaker. Aside from speaking well - are you bringing more good into this world by sharing your story, sharing who you are? Is the way in which you bring yourself something you can be proud of?
This is what I learned from these two people whom I admire greatly.
For them - and in case it's valuable to anyone else - I've included the copy of my short introduction here:
21 years ago tomorrow night, I was standing on a stage very similar to this one… waiting to hear who had won the oratory championship. And as it got down to me and my teammate, Brian – the last two – we heard this chorus of squeals from the audience... It was, of course, Pam.
And here’s the thing:
When people asked me about the lessons I learned from this experience, for years I would say... That hard work does really pay off.
Because of course I had worked my butt off. The equation I was using was
SPEAKER (and his or her talent) + HARD WORK = POSSIBILITY OF SUCCESS
But you each here, presumably, have talent. Right? You got this far? And you each have worked hard to get here. That’s the only way. And you have a possibility of success, too.
But you don’t have one thing that I did: PAM AND JOE WYCOFF .
Without them, I wouldn’t have made it to the stage.
More importantly, I wouldn’t have created the work of my life, that I love so dearly.
I wouldn’ t believe in the power and potential of oratory to do big things in this world.
And I have only 3 minutes to share with you about how these amazing people have impacted my life. And there are HUNDREDS of people who could stand up here and share personal, specific and transformative stories of what these two have done for them.
I am only one of the hundreds, but I can tell you this: Pam treated me like one of her own. She took me in, saw potential in me, fought for me, stood up with me, cheered me on, sent me to the toughest tournaments so I could lose and learn and get better, spent hours upon hours upon hours pouring over judges’ comments and reflcting on what’s next and coaching me with exquisite skill - and molded me into an oratory champion.
I was looking through my old speech folder and I found dozens of notes and letters written by Pam that she would give me before big rounds and tournaments.
Which meant that –
After teaching all day
And then coaching all afternoon and throughout most evenings (the kind of commitment and dedication that requires real sacrifice - sacrifice that most of us don't make)
She then went home and poured her heart out into a letter for me, and all her students. Over and over and over again.
To let me know that she supported me, believed in me, and could see something for me and in me that I didn’t yet see.
And there is so much wisdom in these letters - wisdom I don't have time to go into right now.
But there’s one piece of wisdom that I know both Pam and Joe share that has stayed with me in life and has shaped the work I do each day:
“A good speaker is a good person who speaks well.”
And what that means to me is that to be a good speaker, we need
Not just our TALENT – which was recognized and nurtured by Pam and Joe
And not just our CRAFT – which they so passionately taught us, with integrity and commitment
But that if we really want to be a good speaker – we must show our HEARTS. Who we are.
That is what oratory is all about, transforming a mere “speech” into a “moment” that can truly stay with us. (And that is something our world needs so much right now.)
And of course Pam and Joe believed that a good speaker is a good person. They could teach that. Because they are not just good coaches – “they are good people, who coach well.”
So Pam – and Joe –
I am so honored to be here tonight. To hold you up. To be present with you in this moment, and to try to put into words the indelible impact you’ve had on the hundreds and hundreds of students you’ve coached over the years.
And to say thank you, on behalf of all of us.
I love you both dearly – and congratulations.