Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.
Cavett Robert is hardly a household name, yet he played a very important part in our society and his influence has been felt all over the world. Born in 1907, in Starkville, Mississippi, he led an unremarkable working life at first, teaching school and practising law. When an Arizona power company sent him round to address various groups as their publicity agent he began to discover his skills in public speaking. He honed these skills selling funeral services, and then became a professional public speaker.
Back in the 1960s, public speaking was not developed as it is today, and few organisations hired outside speakers. While Cavett could have carved out a nice little niche for himself, after joining Toastmasters International and winning their International Speaking Contest, he chose to help and encourage others, aiming to develop public speaking as a profession that anyone could take up, regardless of their background.
The character-building and inspirational effect of an excellent speech on a receptive audience was something Cavett understood. However, it was a challenge to convince people that public speaking was a worthwhile occupation. People were sceptical of an organisation based on mutual help and support, when business was so competition-based.
But Cavett’s goal was to raise the profile of public speakers in the NSA so that the public would come to trust in the quality of the members. He realised that if more openings were provided for professional speakers they would all benefit in the end. His work in founding the National Speaker’s Association led to the development of the kind of motivational speaking that has helped so many people today.
The NSA steadily grew as people understood the need for regulation of public speakers, and the setting of high standards. Training courses were arranged, and ethical guidelines drawn up and maintained. With the late Bill Gove as president, the membership increased to several thousand members and continues to grow. There is now an International Speaking Federation as well.
Cavett Robert spoke many words of wisdom during his long life (he died in 1997, aged ninety). Two quotes can be seen to reflect his attitude to life, and explain his lasting legacy: ‘Any person who selects a goal in life which can be fully achieved, has already defined his own limitations,’ and ‘Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.’ In both respects Cavett Robert definitely practised what he preached.