King of the Empire State

I was a contestant in the Area 34 Humorous speech contest for Toastmasters this past Tuesday at the Linked In offices in the Empire State Building. I did a speech in which I anthropomorphized my negative internal chatter and turned them into the characters of the Legion of Doom from the Superfriends.

I joined Toastmasters at work because I’ve been finding myself having to get up in front of people as plain ol’ me, without a script or character. It’s not easy for me. I’m something of an introvert who has deeply held beliefs that people don’t care what I have to say. It takes quite a bit of work to get beyond that to actually express what I think and feel. So my speech (see below) dealt with that.

I’ve learned a lot in this process. I haven’t done anything competitively in a long time. I have more to learn about making things accessible and how to structure a piece to keep people on board without too many red herrings. I use misdirection a lot in my solo stuff and it doesn’t work so well here. I also go a mile a minute. I need to put some more blues and soul in my speaking and stop trying to be the Eddie Van Halen of the mouth.

To my surprise, I won. So Aimee and I were given an express escort up to the top of the Empire State Building. I hadn’t been up there since 2003. There have been many changes to the city’s skyline since then. This was also my first visit at night. There’s a lot to like about it, especially when you can get up to it in under 10 minutes.

The view from the top of the Empire State Building Sept. 9, 2014.

The view from the top of the Empire State Building Sept. 9, 2014.

Here is a copy of my speech. Please contact me if you want to use part of this. Please also credit me.


by Chris Harcum

By a show of hands, how many here deal with negative internal chatter? Those voices inside your head that say you don’t measure up.

It’s okay. You’re among friends. It’s okay to admit that you’re human.

My favorite cartoon growing up was the Super Friends, a collection of superheroes who, unlike most of us, were not normally saddled with fears or doubts. It aired from 1973 to 1985 and was required Saturday morning viewing through most of my grade school years. For those who might be unfamiliar, the idea is similar to what happens in the music industry where they take players from certain bands and put them together into a super group like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And they applied this can’t lose concept to super heroes by putting them all into one cartoon. Sort of like what Stallone did with The Expendables…only more realistic.

The Super Friends consisted of Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman. That’s the big 4…and Robin. I’m not sure how Aquaman got top billing. He just (make sound effect: doot, doot, doot, doot, doot) sent mental doughnuts out to the fish.

Those poor fish. I’m surprised they didn’t just (run into the wall–SPLAT!!).

Then there were the super cool, second-tier super heroes like Green Lantern and the Flash. Man oh man, I’d zip around at top speed all day on a Flash day. “I’m in the front yard. I’m in the back yard. I’m up the street. I’m down the street.” I did the same thing when they began airing the live-action Flash series on the CW. “I’m at the top of Central Park. I’m at the bottom of Central Park.”

Next, there were the third-string super heroes like Apache Chief who’d get really big. And to be fair and balanced, they had the Atom who would get really small. (tiny voice) “I’m fighting crime.” There was also Hawkman and Hawkgirl. I found that confusing. Were they married? Were they related? Did they…molt a lot?

Ridiculous, I know, but like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, these heroes with their special niche skills were dedicated to truth, justice, and peace for all mankind.

And watching the Super Friends gave me the feeling that I could take on the world. In my footie pajamas.

But, my fellow Toastmasters and honored guests, I would like to posit that it wasn’t the residents of the Hall of Justice who made the animated series so heart-poundingly exciting. No. It was the gaggle of villains in the Legion of Doom, who made it difficult to down my Pop-Tarts every Saturday morning.

They were, in no particular order, except maybe alphabetical…Bizarro, Black Manta, Brainiac, Captain Cold, Cheetah, Giganta, Gorilla Grodd, Lex Luthor, Riddler, Scarecrow, Sinestro, Solomon Grundy, and Toyman.

Despite how things might seem, I’m not here today to demonstrate my ability to say 13 villains’ names in one breath. Nor am I here to disappoint anyone who heard the title of my speech “If You Start Me Up” and expected Mick Jagger impressions. (pause)

“If you start me up…if you start me up…I’ll never stop.” “I can’t compete.”

I’m here today to talk about the Legion of Doom inside this Metropolis. This villainous horde that works through various forms of self-sabotage. The real villains of negative internal chatter.

Today’s episode will focus on my first-tier villains. The Brainiac overworks me, preventing me from doing anything well, let alone enjoy any of it, because there’s too much to do. “Mwa ha haaa. Let’s see you work your way out of this one, Superman. Multitask. Multitask. Multitask.”

Captain Cold freezes me in a state of procrastination. That word starts out so well. Pro. Crastination. “You’ll never do anything without a deadline.”

The Scarecrow and his fear gas brings out the worst. “What if this isn’t good enough? What if people think I’m crazy? What if…I can’t come up with a third question to show the depths of my self-doubt?”

And that’s just the stuff that comes up when I shave. It’s even worse before I have to speak.

But Lex Luthor has my ultimate Kryptonite. A green lump of Compare and Despair. “Well, you haven’t done this like so-and-so. You haven’t done that like such-and-such. You haven’t done much, have you?”

This is where I have to admit I’m human. And weak. And can snap like a twig.

The only way I’ve found to combat this nefarious cabal is by giving myself the permission to start something. To hear that quiet, simple, human voice say, “the work begins now.” And by allowing myself to take that first small step, maybe tenuous, probably imperfect, I can summon up a justice league of strength, courage, speed, size, fish. (Splat into the wall) Okay, maybe not fish. But if you start me up, I’ll begin to fight for truth, justice, and peace in my own small way.

And, if you take away nothing else from this, I hope the next time there’s an intruder alert inside your Hall of Justice, when a voice inside says you aren’t good enough, you can’t do it all or you should feel ashamed because of your limits, I hope you can start the transformation into your hero by letting yourself begin.