Elocution and stuff

Rikk Wilde’s business card says he says Chevys– and he does. But what he also sells, roundabout, is Toastmasters Memberships.

Three weeks ago nobody had heard of the General Motors zone manager from Kansas City. Now everybody’s heard of him — for kind of the wrong reasons.

Moments after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, and their ace Madison Bumgarner was announced as the MVP, the pitcher stood up there behind a big trophy next to FOX reporter Erin Andrews and baseball commissioner Bud Selig. Then a fourth person came into the frame. It was Wilde, the Chevy guy, there to give Bumgarner the keys to his new Chevy truck.

You’ve seen these presentations before: thirty seconds boilerplate from the sponsor, handshakes all round, and then everybody gets on with the partying. Utterly forgettable.

Not this time.

Wilde is a huge man. His black suit jacket hung open, vestibule-like. He was visibly sweating. He was out of breath before he even started speaking. It seemed quite possible that he had never given a public speech in his life. It seemed equally likely he was going to have a coronary, right there in front of a TV audience of millions.

In Toastmasters we count each other’s ‘ums’ and ‘ahs.’ Those are filler words we need to purge from our speech. In his minute up there, Wilde had two “ums,” five “ah”s and a couple of “er”s. He frequently went dry and had to look down at his notes. When he freestyled, things got worse. Of the new Chevy Colorado he was giving away, Wilde said: “It combines class-winning, leading, um, you know, technology and stuff.” Then he fished in his pockets for the keys.

Within minutes, the Twitterverse was on fire. Viewers had a big laugh at the expense of poor, inept Rikk Wilde. Comparisons to Rob Ford and Chris Farley were frequent and not unwarranted.

What a disaster: for Wilde and for Chevrolet. Wilde’s career was over for sure. Probably he should be kept away from sharp objects. The next morning Wilde got the dreaded phone call from his employer.

And then something weird happened. Not only was Wilde not being fired, Wilde was told, but Chevrolet was getting behind him. The company put up a tagline on their website: Chevrolet: “Technology and stuff.”

The tide of opinion turned. Hostility morphed into something like compassion. That initial spasm of gleeful cruel teasing, well, that’s just a response we learned from Letterman. To laugh at people’s foibles, that’s just a tribal thing. It’s in us, but it’s not the best of us. What replaced it was a kind of ‘There but for fortune go I’ response. Holy cow, can you imagine what that felt like? Poor guy. I wouldn’t want to have been in his position. Geez, maybe I’d better practice a bit harder on that wedding speech I have to give.

People retweeted and retweeted the clip. Soon more people were talking about the all-too-human pitchman than about the otherworldly starting pitcher. The exposure amounted to $2.4 million for Chevrolet — six times what would have come from a more polished performance.

For Wilde, the worst day of his life became, strangely, the best day. There is talk of a new ad campaign built around him. You can bet that this time he’ll spend a bit more time on his spiel. He might even sign up for Toastmasters.

The wild ride of Rikk Wilde served as the “inspiration” at this week’s Vancore meeting. Epic fails are often more inspiring than a smooth successes. Stage fright is no fun. The only antidote is practice and more practice – not in front of a mirror but in front of real people.

And Wilde’s eventual social-media triumph proved, down deep your audience doesn’t want to see you faceplant. They want to see you prevail. At some level, they’re pulling for you. They’re saying: Hey, we’re all in this together.

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About Vancore Toastmasters

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