He Said What?!







A couple weeks ago, in anticipation of my son’s tee-ball debut, I wrote about my own inauspicious Little League Baseball debut. It wasn’t pretty, (and involved coming in the game for my requisite one at-bat and looking at the first baseman—not the pitcher—as strikes one, two and three whooshed by unchallenged…and that was the best part of it) which is an understatement. However, it went a helluva lot smoother than that of A.J. Clemente—who made his debut last night as a weekend co-anchor for NBC affiliate KFYR-TV of Bismarck, North Dakota.



On this soon-to-be viral Youtube clip, you see the start of the evening newscast, and apparently, it is Clemente’s mediocre recorded voiceover that we hear. After seeing a quick video montage, A.J.’s next three words are what makes this telecast newsworthy. The first word isn’t easy to decipher; the next two are unmistakable—the seven-letter equivalent of fornicating, followed by…okay… followed by shit.  (I have to draw the line somewhere.)


From there, depending upon your sensibilities, it soon gets a little worse. An apparently somewhat shaken co-anchor named Van Tieu tries to recover and introduces A.J. to his viewers. She asks him to say a little bit about himself. Ever the pro, A.J. says the following, “Um, thanks, Van, I’m very excited. I graduated from West Virginia University and I’m used to, um, you know, from being from the in, East Coast.” It was excruciating to watch this, and I’m not sure whether to commiserate with the new anchor (if he still has a job). I do feel bad for Van, who will probably be viewed more on this clip than on any other, and she was simply trying her best to make chicken salad out of the ah, um, you know, other chicken-related ingredients.


We haven’t all been in A.J.’s circumstances, as we don’t all have jobs that require us to speak in front of a camera. That’s probably a good thing. But I’m sure that all of us can relate to first-day jitters or having to answer the first tough question on an interview.  Of course, “Tell us a little bit about yourself, A.J.” is hardly the equivalent of “Please tell me the value of Pi in a Slavic language of your choice—calculated to 15 places after the decimal point—while doing a headstand.”


To say that A.J. came up small is an understatement. To my way of thinking, just as a regular guy, it’s forgivable to toss the occasional “f” or “s” bomb, but one should have the good sense to not do so into an open mic. But even if Clemente had every reason to believe that he wouldn’t be heard by the TV audience, he knew that his quite audible mutterings would be heard by his co-anchor. If he were alone at the anchor desk, it would still be horrible. Almost dragging someone down with him (and how did she keep from either laughing or getting completely flustered?) would have really been a disaster. I certainly hope that he apologized profusely to Van (who seemed to handle it all with grace) along with everyone else in the Twittersphere.


Is there a lesson here, and should I be the one to deliver it? Probably, and I guess so. Mistakes can and do happen to all of this, and I would hope that this one doesn’t cost Mr. Clemente his career. I also hope that his 15-plus minutes of fame doesn’t catapult him to positions that he’s not yet ready for, or deserving of. May he get suspended, learn the correct lessons (um, you know, about professionals being professional) and succeed in his very public position.


I am a five-year member and two-year club president of Toastmasters International, an organization dedicated primarily to competence—and eventually, excellence—in oral communication. At my regular club meetings,  I have witnessed speakers who were totally overcome with fear when standing up to give a short address, and others who were thisclose to truly making a good living as a public speaker—assuming the right focus, and breaks. Of course, I’ve also seen, evaluated and advised on almost every level in-between. Every speaker at a Toastmasters meeting (whether delivering a prepared speech or doing so off-the-cuff) is evaluated on use of filler words—the aforementioned “ah” “um”, “like” and “you know.” Most of us lean on our own verbal crutches and the use of too many can relegate an otherwise effective speech to the province of mediocrity. It’s hard to imagine that someone with a background in TV journalism could have gotten unnerved enough to throw in four or five filler words in the space of two sentences about himself. But, the Youtube video stands sheepishly as a monument to that possibility. Perhaps, the bright lights of Bismarck were just too much for the former Mountaineer. Who knows?


My Conclusions:


1. This video is kind of funny in a train-wreck kind of way. (I’m trying not to say Schadenfreude. I’m getting sick of that f*ckin’ word.)


2. This situation is unfortunate for Clemente (although something tells me he’ll profit from this), Van Tieu and anybody else who may have been hurt from this. I’m really not thinking about the viewers; I somehow think they can take it. Well, maybe not his am/umm-laden introduction to his viewers.


3. As a speaker, you should always know your audience and all those who surround you.


4. Perhaps, my Little League Baseball debut really wasn’t all that bad, although a video may have proven otherwise. I am quite capable of being both very self-forgiving and self-critical.


Per the last point, I am not sure which describes me better, although I’m presently putting this ambiguity to a test. This past Saturday, I competed in and won my Toastmaster Division’s “International Speech” contest, so named because it’s the only contest that is open to all of its 116 countries, 13,000-plus clubs and 250,000-plus  members (not that all compete.) Having won the first three rounds out of six total, I can claim with shaded truth that I am halfway toward earning the somewhat arrogant title of World Champion of Public Speaking. Of course, the next three rounds (not that the first three have been easy) figure to become more challenging.


One of the greatest challenges has been getting myself to watch the video tape of my speech, which for all of my Toastmasters, real world and contest speeches, has been the first one that I have a video copy of. To my own eyes and ears, I come off as part goofball and part ready-for-primetime speaking star. I’m not sure what the relative ratios are, but at times, it was better than I expected, and at other junctures, it needed more polish.


Jitters? There shouldn’t have been any, as I have been able to win 25 or more speaking contests in the last four years. But I still have some measure of jittery butterflies every single time, and per this speech, I used only about 6 minutes and 15 seconds to deliver a speech that usually runs about 6:40. So yes, I was a little amped up, but luckily, had no obvious stumbles, no filler words and no A.J.-isms.


Having said that, I am not providing the video as evidence. I’m not yet ready for it to go viral. But if you want me to speak in Bismarck, North Dakota and if you will pay for my travel expenses and a little meal money, I’ll drop all my other f___ s___ and get on the next plane.


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