Friday, September 17, 2010
Return of the Speaker
It had been over a year since my last big talk. I wasn't that nervous to get back out there. I was ready. I was speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Northside Atlanta over by the High Museum. There were about 25 people there. Most of them were between 65 and 75 years of age. One guy told me as soon as I walked in, "So you're the speaker? You better be good." He wasn't kidding either.
I'd been a pretty good speaker to this point. I don't want it to sound like bragging but I knew that I could do a good job. My last really big speech had probably been at the 11 Alive Community Service Awards about 4 years ago. I enclosed a picture from that night with Atlanta Falcons defensive pro bowler Patrick Kerney.
It was a pretty serious crowd yesterday. I put some brochures and booklets on the table, grabbed some lunch and waited for Joel Isenberg, a friend of my father's, to introduce me.
I did not have any notes. I hadn't practiced. I hadn't given a speech in a year and a half. How would I do?
I began speaking at 1:30 and finished my speech around 5 till 2pm. I took 10 minutes of questions. And when I finished, I got a rousing standing ovation. This one woman who just come back fom a mission in Africa couldn't stop hugging me. She said she didn't know me but was so proud of me. I had one man tell me that he'd been in this club for 30 years and he'd never seen a standing ovation with everyone getting up at the same time and clapping like that. He said he'd heard many people speak in his 70+ years on this earth and he would group me with one other man that he'd heard speak...Harry S. Truman. I was honored that he would put me in that company. I know I have a gift for speaking but I also think my story is really what captures an audience, not necessarily how I tell it.
I got a donation of $50 from the group after shaking everyone's hands afterwards. I felt like a rock star which is dangerous for an addict. You never want to get too high on yourself. I got in my car and stopped for a moment. I said my serenity prayer and got myself to a place of calm.
Joel e-mailed me last night to tell me that the speech was the most inspirational he had seen. I then got a donation on-line from one of the guys in the audience. I got a lot of compliments and was very happy with the response. I guess motivational speaking is what I'm meant to do. This is my talent. When I was young, public speaking was nowhere on my list of careers I'd like to do. I wanted to be a baseball player,a veterinarian, a doctor, a fireman or even a teacher. In 5th grade, I had to memorize a 14-line sonnet and I choked. I couldn't remember a single line. I knew the whole sonnet the night before but I'd totally forgotten it by the time I stood up. Ms. Stansberry gave me a D and asked me to sit down. I was humiliated. I never wanted to get in front of a crowd again. I remember though when that changed.
I was in high school. This was my senior year and everyone was doing reports on diseases that affect this country. My disease was AIDS. One afternoon. my teacher said, "Andy, are you ready to give your presentation?"
"Ummmm...sure," I said, "but can we eat lunch first so I can get something to eat. I'm hungry." We had the choice and the teacher was cool with it. I totally forgot about the presentation. I hadn't done any work for it. Most people spent weeks researching their project. I had less than an hour to put together a 20 minute speech on a disease that I'd barely heard of except for the death of Rock Hudson, a famous Hollywood actor.
I researched for 20 minutes and found very little in our library. AIDS was still not that well known and views about it were different depending on where you looked. Twenty minutes later, I almost went to my teacher and asked for an F, but I knew I needed this class to graduate and this presentation was almost half my grade. I was going to have to wing it. So sadly I made up half of my statistics but I spoke from the heart telling people how tough a disease AIDS was. Looking back, I should have been ashamed for my lack of preparation and misinformation concerning statistics. But that report was half my grade and I had to graduate. The teacher even started to cry. Twenty-five minutes later, I'd given the speech of my life. I'd made up for the 5th grade disaster with an impromptu act that would have made some of the great public speakers cheer. I got an A. The story is something I'm not proud of, but sometimes great things come when you least expect them. It was then that I knew I had this gift. I just never knew how I could use it. I do now. I'll use it to spread awareness and hopefully help us find a cure for CF and save so many people's lives. I'd like to find Ms. Stansberry and have her hear me now.
Today was Yom Kippur, the day of atonement for Jews. I know I have a lot of atoning to do. Yesterday afternoon I finally began Step 9 by contacting a few people who were on my list of people I harmed. Both appreciated my gesture and said the feeling was mutual. It ended on good terms and I felt some relief. My sponsor told me after a few of these responses I was going to feel better about myself. He was right. Still there are more people to contact. There is more closure to receive.
Avery has her first soccer game tomorrow and I'm really excited. I hope the kids have fun in my soccer coaching debut. Andrea has a big tennis match tomorrow. I'll be cheering on my Braves and hoping they can sweep the Mets. We're 1.5 games up pending the SF-Milwaukee game tonight.
I hope everyone has a good night.