Giving voice to the goofball

Today, a friend invited me to a day-long event jam-packed with well-known motivational speakers. I accepted with delight. Not only do I love a good inspirational pep talk, I welcomed the chance to watch and learn techniques from seasoned pros on the arena-scale speaking circuit.

The brilliant, the okay and the ugly

I saw eight speakers before I left, not including the MC and entertainment acts. Six were strictly motivational and two were pitching product. Three of them inspired me. One of them had me feeling empathetic but sad. Two came across as professional but not particularly engaging, and another was practiced (rather than pro) and distant. And one knocked me so off balance, I headed for home rather than stay in that crowded venue for the last two or three speakers.

My favorites surprised me. One was a man not listed on any of the lineups I’d seen publicized, an author and student of Zig Ziglar named Krish Dhanam—passionate, articulate and proclaiming a strong point of view. One was one of the pitchmen, a man named Bob Kittell—warm, funny and demonstrating an undying curiosity and passion for living. And perhaps most surprising to this non-competitive, team-sports-o-phobe (if I might be so bold as to invent the term), one was NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw—self-deprecating goofball willing to be vulnerable in front of thousands of people.

It wasn’t so much the pitch as the pitcher

The speaker that sent me home was the other pitchman. To my ears, he was fingernails on the blackboard. For example, he mentioned the importance of being kind, yet he used cruel humor. (For example, he suggested those who disagreed with him take the Kevorkian home study test and end it all.) And he liked to talk about helping random people he’d met, like a waitress, a hotel housekeeper, his trash collector, etc., and though he insisted it didn’t bother him these people “weren’t white,” made a point to use disparaging adjectives (“fat,” “old,” “disgusting,” “woodpecker”), to mimic their accents and imply their ignorance.

Funny that one of the things I cheered about Mr. Dhanam—a call for the end of political correctness—was the same thing I bemoaned in this other man.

Speaking with a forked tongue

As I rode the train home, I realized what made the difference for me and caused me to walk out. Unlike the other speakers I’d seen, this last man’s words were not in alignment with his true beliefs. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to sense it, and I sincerely hope the organizers rethink having him on the same roster as the big-name, vibrationally-authentic speakers.

Long live the inner child

On the upside, I realized the speakers I loved had more in common than vibrational alignment. They all had a decided point a view, rather than simply aim to please the audience. They all spoke without notes or teleprompter—they spoke passionately, from the heart. And more than passion, there was JOY.

Thank you, Mr. Dhanam, Mr. Kittell and Mr. Bradshaw for being my role models today.

And thanks to my friend Sherri, for the opportunity to see them speak.

Photo credit: Beth Rankin

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