If you’re never heard LaDainian Tomlinson’s NFL Hall of Fame speech, pull out your handy-dandy smartphone and check it out.
It’s a stunner. As high a pedestal as you’ve probably placed TCU’s superstar running back on, you’ll probably lift him higher after listening to the speech. Forget football. That was just a stepping stone on Tomlinson’s journey to fulfill what he saw – at an early age – as his destiny. Yep, it’s inspiring.
“If this was my last day on earth, and this my final speech, this is the message I’ll leave with you. The story of a man I never met, my great-great-great grandfather George. One-hundred-and-seventy years ago, George was brought here in chains on a slave ship from West Africa.
“His last name Tomlinson was given to him by the man who owned him. Tomlinson was the slave owner’s last name. What extraordinary courage it must have taken for him to rebuild his life after the life he was born to was stolen. How did he reclaim his identity, his dignity, when he had the freedom to choose for himself? I grew up on the land of a former slave plantation, and although I didn’t know this as a child, it’s where my great-great-great grandfather tilled the soil. A few years ago, I visited that same plantation in central Texas with my family and stood in the slave quarters where he lived. It’s now named Tomlinson Hill.”
“The family legacy that began in such a cruel way, has given birth to generations of successful, caring Tomlinsons. I firmly believe that God chose me to help bring two races together under one last name, Tomlinson. I’m a mixed race, and I represent America. My story is America’s story. All our ancestors, unless we’re American Indian, came from a different country, another culture.”
That’s just a taste. It’s a great speech, but reading it, you likely won’t get the full impact. As Ella Fitzgerald sang, it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
That, in some measure was the message that Arthur Joseph, founder and president of Vocal Awareness Institute Inc., presented at the Tandy Executive Speaker Series of the TCU Neeley School of Business on Sept. 12. Joseph helped Tomlinson turn some great words on paper into a hell of a speech.
“This is my 53rd year since I created Vocal Awareness. It’s a paradigm shift in communication, because it teaches empowerment through voice,” Joseph said in an interview with Paul K. Harral before the event.
Joseph’s vision? Nothing less than To Change the World through Voice.
“I teach everyone that voice is power and that when you own your voice you own your power,” he said to the crowd.
And then he set about proving it – well, at least demonstrating that it’s possible. He played a clip of some of the people he has helped coach over the years, in particular several football announcers who sent him a clip of them doing the warm-up exercises he teaches. These powerhouse broadcasters and former superstar athletes went through the exercises like they were the most important warm-up drills they’d ever done. They believed it.
Why, Joseph asked, do we spend so much time stretching some of our bodies’ largest muscles but we spend no time stretching one of the smallest that we use all the time, the larynx?
His website lists more than 400 individuals and organizations he has worked with and coached, ranging from actors to athletes to broadcasters to Broadway shows to entire businesses such as law firms.
A sampling: Angelina Jolie, Anne Bancroft, Sean Connery, Sylvester Stallone, Gary Busey, Pat Boone, Pete Seeger, Joe Namath, Michael Irvin and cast members of A Chorus Line, Cats and Pirates of Penzance.
Notice the list of musical acts. Joseph notes that – in a sentiment that some scoff at – a speech is a performance. As such, it is much like singing.
Joseph, like many other cultural commentators, is concerned that we are on the verge of losing the art of public discourse. But he goes beyond that. He worries that we are losing not only the ability to communicate, but also the innate ability to connect with each other on even the most basic levels—physically, psychologically, and spiritually.
His voice certainly connects. During his discussion with O. Homer Erekson, dean of the Neeley School, he led the audience through a simple series of vocal exercises. Joseph noted the quietness in the room. “I’m someone who can hear dandruff falling and I couldn’t hear anything,” he said. Communication was about to begin.
I’m one of those people who is typically giving a speech or moderating an event on the run. When it connects, great. When it doesn’t? Well, what is wrong with those people?
Joseph made me – and others at the breakfast – think a bit more about this thing we do every day.
As I said, Joseph helped Tomlinson with his speech. He brought a copy of the speech. The annotations on it were amazing: when to pause, when to breathe, when to look at the audience. Tomlinson didn’t just communicate. He connected.
It’s something to think about the next time you’ve got to speak to someone.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.