When I was in my first year of college, I was given the Book “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck.  The first sentence resounded with me as I struggled with emotions.  I had just lost my mother in the middle of a week of very difficult university tests.  The rest of the paragraph gave me comfort and insight.

“Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth, because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult–once we truly understand and accept it–then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I was determining my direction in life and this helped to move me forward.

 

On visits home, my father had often invited me to come to one of his Toastmaster’s clubs.  In his downtown club was a gentleman who had been a favorite of mine as a teenager.  Courtney had been to radio announcer for our local city radio station. He had once had a deep resonant voice with a range of pitch and volume that could entertain even the most aloof listener. Now, he had lost his larynx and very nearly his life to cancer of the throat.

 

Yet, here was Courtney, arduously manipulating the limited electro-larynx, sounding like a robot and working to develop pacing and strategies that would somewhat humanize his speaking. To understand him, the audience had to listen very closely.  Each of us had to analyze, edit and wait as he spoke and closely watched his audience for cues; cues on what he was to change or repeat to be more readily understood.

 

His audience was a group of patient and supportive Toastmasters. The group was composed of a couple of farmers, two professionals – One a scientist from India and another an Asian engineer that were from the local research division of an international company; three or four local business owners, my father among them, a physician and Courtney.  We all listened raptly.

Please remember that I was a nineteen-year-old, not known for listening.  Like most, I liked to hear the sound of my own voice and have others listen to me.

This group of Toastmasters and Courtney taught me a fascinating lesson.  Listening was an invigorating experience.  I listened with my eyes and ears, watching and discerning each movement and analyzing how Courtney managed to make a robotic voice come alive.  I listened to the sounds and words, finding that I needed to edit and then come back to the speech, working to keep abreast of the story.  I watched Courtney observe his audience. He listened to their sighs, adjusted and repeated as needed, adding gestures and facial movements to illustrate his points. He did all this with a robotic-sounding, battery-powered mechanism he held against his scarred neck.

He worked as hard or even harder at listening and observing as the audience did.

Life, then, was extremely painful and difficult for Courtney.  He had accepted it and was moving on, trying, failing, retrying, learning and excelling.

The lesson gained from Courtney and Toastmasters was to:

  • Listen more intently
  • Observe more thoroughly …..And….
  • Find out how to help individuals of all types to become better speakers.

How to develop an “Articulate Advantage”, no matter what our circumstances.