Unexpected Lessons Learned From A Champion

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Today I saw a champion share his passion with the world. Not just a champion, but the 2004 Toastmasters International World Champion for Public Speaking – Dr. Randy J. Harvey. Randy shared his methodology and tactics for crafting amazing speeches as the keynote speaker for a Toastmasters Learning Institute event that I attended today, and he shared a wonderful line-by-line analysis of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. I learned more about public speaking and speech writing in one day then I have from courses that took months to complete. This opportunity to meet with and learn from a master of his craft is a rare gem in life that one must cherish and appreciate.

And for someone else it was merely a chance to point out a spelling error on Dr. Harvey’s presentation in front of the entire audience. It was a moment of ridiculous short sightedness where someone lost sight of the bigger picture.

As Randy analyzed the Gettysburg Address he pointed out the power of the following lines:

But, in a larger sense,

we can not dedicate,

we can not consecrate,

we can not hallow this ground.

The brave men,

living and dead,

who struggled here,

have consecrated it,

far above our poor power to add or detract.

Randy explained how the repetition of the words “we can not” combined with either an ascending or descending use of volume and tone would allow the audience to embrace the message and internalize it. Immediately following that ascension or descent of vocal variety the next line would have far greater impact upon the audience. Randy’s mastery and understanding of speech writing shined brilliantly throughout this lesson.

Except that the word “hallow” was not being projected. Instead the line was written as “we can not hollow this ground.” I noticed this error, and I am sure that others did as well, but I was certainly not going to point out to a world champion this minor mistake which in no way lessened the value of the analysis. It was as significant as a fingerprint on a skyscraper window, because even if you do notice it you will still be in awe of what stands before you. Which is why it was so odd when an audience member raised her hand and pointed out that the word should be “hallow” and not “hollow”. She not only pointed out the mistake, but she then proceeded to explain what the word hallow means to Randy. This was not a casual observation, but a criticism and correction done at the most inappropriate of times.

To help put this into context, not only is Dr. Randy Harvey a world champion speaker but he also holds a PhD, a Masters, and two Bachelors Degrees. Furthermore, all of the attending Toastmasters members were not being charged for this event. We were being instructed by an amazing teacher who could easily receive thousands of dollars for a one hour speaking engagement, and he spent over three hours today teaching others who share his passion for communication for free. I am willing to bet your dimes to my dollars that Dr. Harvey knows what the word hallow means. Call me an optimist.

In response to a generous act of mentoring a world champion was repaid by someone pointing out a typo that spellcheck would not have caught! This is the equivalent of Mario Andretti pulling up next to you in a Ferrari, asking if you would like a free driving lesson, and then throwing you the keys so that you can take off for a quick spin in world class Italian luxury at 90mph. But instead of leaping into the driver’s seat with a big grateful smile you look at Mario and say:

“The brake pedal has a scuff mark. You should fix that.”

To Randy’s credit he made a joke about the matter, noted that he would fix the error, and moved on. A single typo being pointed out by an audience member might have slipped up a lesser speaker, but Dr. Harvey just got back to work with his analysis and kept the momentum moving forward.

Here again we were all mentored and taught yet another valuable lesson, but not everyone might have noticed what it was (and it was not a lesson about proofreading). It was a bonus lesson that taught everyone that a professional is not perfect. A professional makes mistakes just like anyone else does, but a professional gets past his or her mistakes and continues on the path towards unobtainable perfection by eliminating one flaw at a time.

As an IT professional you are going to make mistakes. Mistakes are unavoidable. Even world champions make mistakes. You will forget a cable, misconfigure a setting, or order the wrong item. Embrace these mistakes, because they are yours after all and they will teach you how to improve.

Embrace your mistakes but never dwell on them. Apply the lesson that you learned to your next project and move on, and when you see someone else’s mistake do not exploit it in order to make yourself look better at that person’s expense.

That is what an IT professional, or any professional for that matter, should do. It is what a world champion would do. So why not learn from the best? You might just become the next world champion by doing so.

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