Did you recently have a bad presentation? Feel out of touch with your audience? Maybe you’re thinking, “I can barely form sentences when I’m speaking in public.” If you are in need of some motivation, let me tell you the story of one of my first clients, Leslie.
Leslie was a hardworking master’s degree candidate at the School of Social Work at Columbia University. She had graduated at the top of her class, and was asked to give a major commencement address. She was thrilled…and terrified. That’s when she called me.
When I showed up at her office, her brow was knitted, and her arms crossed. Her floor was scattered with public speaking textbooks. Drafts of her speech were littered about her desk. Leslie felt that she did not have a solid structure to her presentation, and she believed her material would not connect to her audience. She was stuck, and the commencement was days away.
I suggested that she view the speech as a major opportunity to change lives, and craft a thesis that reflected that ambition. I gave her a simple, effective structure she could use for the speech. I suggested she use personal stories, analogy, contrast and comparison. And then I gave her a healthy dose of encouragement.
Leslie rose to the challenge. She dug into statistics and stories about homelessness in New York. She calculated the number of times the homeless in New York could fit into the venue for the commencement address, and added the figure to her speech. She worked with me on her non-verbal communication, and her voice. I taught her to hit her content words, and breathe from her diaphragm. We worked on calming her nerves, and envisioning success.
On the day of the commencement, Leslie stood in front of two thousand students brimming with optimism, and called them to be active and engaged citizen. She received a standing ovation. Then, she came off the podium, and was greeted by her husband who had tears in his eyes. To this day, she still hears from former students about how much her speech meant to them.
The most powerful speeches come from people who want to make a positive change — whether it is through an improved social condition, an improved product launch, or an improved business relationship. Does that sound like you? Leave a comment below to share your proudest presentation moment.