The Big Talent Show


The Big Talent Show

With another High School reunion coming up this year for me, I was mentally reliving a few memorable moments and lessons learned during my growing up days back in Pittsburgh. I have mixed emotions for this year’s reunion because at least three of my good friends won’t be there this year. They’ve been traded to the Angels since the last reunion. 

It’s been 25 years since I attended the last reunion. I’ll never forget that one. When I arrived, a girl I attended school with from the first grade, not seeing my wife with me, chose to reveal that she had always had a crush on me. Then around the corner came my wife Ruth in the exact same dress as this woman. Let’s just say that one of the two wore it better than the other, and I wouldn’t be telling the story if my wife was on the losing end of that deal. As the woman walked away, she said, “Now I hate you!” 

I attended that reunion with my good friend Gary. Gary is now a retired banker from Sacramento, and I credit Gary with introducing me to one of my best clients. He was their banker for years and connected us a decade ago. Gary will go with me again this year like he did 25 years ago. Both Gary and I moved out of Pittsburgh to find work after graduating from Pitt so many years ago. 

My grandfather on my dad’s side was an immigrant from Italy. He arrived in the U.S. in 1920, a carpenter looking for an opportunity in a new world. Grandpa’s hold on the English language was suspect, at best, and he developed an awful stuttering problem which he graciously passed on down to two generations. My father has always suffered from stuttering and one of my brothers had it bad, and yours truly had to deal with it, as well. 

As a high school freshman, I was still struggling with stuttering, especially when required to read aloud in Spanish or other classes. I was PETRIFIED to read or present publicly. My sisters didn’t have any issue and they were involved in plays and musicals at school. My sisters loved their musical arts director, Mr. Schweiger. Imagine my shock when Mr. Schweiger approached my twin brother Steve and me about being the Master of Ceremonies for the high school Talent Show. 

Keep in mind, our graduating class was about 1,000 kids. In Pittsburgh those days, High School was three grades, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior. That’s about 3,000 kids who all would sit through the talent show during school, as well as the multiple evening performances where parents and other family members came to watch their offspring perform. 

On top of the requirement to publicly speak in front of literally thousands of people over multiple days, we were also asked to learn how to play the harmonica and to play a song together. The answer was very easy for Mr. Schweiger from me and Steve: NNNNNNnnnnoooooo! 

Then, after deciding that I would not do it, I had an epiphany. If I were ever to learn to stop stuttering and to stop being terrified of public speaking, something I was deathly afraid of, I should take it on directly, say yes, and get on with it. So, I said YES!

Even though this took place so many years ago, it still amazes me that our enemies and our shortcomings and our fears are often made up in our own minds. My stuttering was a learned behavior. I had no physical issue that prohibited me from speaking smoothly. My fear of public speaking was directly related to stuttering. If I could exorcise the thoughts, doubts, and fears that were controlling my speech and behavior, perhaps it could open up a whole new world for me. 

So, Steve and I learned to play the harmonica, in fact, to this day, we both keep one in our cars for when we are driving around (alone, because no one wants to hear us play). Steve lives in the Orlando area, and my harmonica is in Indianapolis. Steve and I perfectly performed our roles as MCs, announcing each act, and even included a cute Star Wars skit that we played out through the evenings. 

I didn’t stutter even once in any of the performances and since that day, I have completely eliminated my fear of public speaking. If you asked me to stand up and speak in front of 5,000 people, I would do it without fear. Now, on the flip side of that, many have suffered since, as it has become very difficult to get me to shut up. My older brother has conquered his stuttering problem as well, and my dad, while still challenged by it, never lets it control his life.

I don’t know if the woman who didn’t look as good in her dress as Ruth did would have had that crush on me had I not conquered my fears and addressed my stuttering. I can say for certain that saying “Yes” to something my heart and mind said “No” to changed my life forever. 

 My occupation requires countless assignments for public speaking, both prepared and unprepared. I’m famous for some of my memorable outbursts. Once at a Lighting Trade show, a panel discussion took place and during the Q & A session, I challenged one of the panelists that his facts were not true. More exactly, I said this, “The third guy from the left, everything he said during this entire presentation is not true!” Now, what excitement that caused. I can honestly state that I did say that, but I also did have evidence to back it up. I literally had a line of people standing waiting to talk to me after a presentation I didn’t even give. Never could have done that had I not owned my issues.

During our church service this weekend, our new pastor shared that he never writes a sermon, he just starts talking and lets it flow. I can relate to that. I never practice a presentation either. I figure, who best knows the subject than the author of the subject? Therefore, just talk and teach. If you are someone who fears public speaking, remember these few things:

• It’s difficult for a man or woman to be a prophet in their hometown. 

• You are the author of your knowledge base, don’t doubt yourself.

• An expert is the one who travels more than 30 miles away to give the talk.

• They came to hear you; you didn’t come to hear them. They believe that you have the skill set.

• Talk slowly and pause. Pause is power!

• Respect everyone in the crowd and do not use profane language or assume that anyone would be amused by it.

• Admit failure and show humility. Thomas Edison was considered a fool by many, but his strength was his endurance. His only first-time success was the phonograph and he was profoundly deaf, how Ironic.

• Remember, you were asked to speak!

Once at a leadership forum of parking professionals, the designated speaker wasn’t able to make the trip and his power point was delivered for one of his C Level executives to use in his place. The speaker got up and excused his way through one of the worst presentations I have ever seen. 

Early on in the speech, one of the audience members said audibly, “Let Jeff Pinyot give the talk, he’ll be able to do it.” I was both embarrassed for the presenter and flattered that I had the reputation of being able to do such a thing. How awful that an executive of an organization didn’t know very much about his company.

Whatever it is today that interferes with the quality of your life, the success of your relationships, or is keeping your business from flourishing, take it straight on and say “Yes” to putting it in the past. If you don’t, I might be giving your next presentation.

Article contributed by:
Jeff Pinyot
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