I delivered my first big speech when I ran for President of my fifth grade class at Los Robles Elementary. I employed the “I have a short speech” stunt: I unrolled a long scroll of paper that dramatically fell off the podium and barreled down the stage. My hard-to-crack audience of 9- to 11-year-olds laughed. The auditorium was abuzz with good energy. I was confident. Nay, fearless. They were waiting to hear what I had to say. I let my perfectly orchestrated pregnant pause fill the air, and then…
I pledged free ice cream sundaes every Friday. I guaranteed a celebrity-studded Halloween parade.
Like a good politician, I made outlandish and fiscally irresponsible promises. I pledged free ice cream sundaes every Friday. I guaranteed a celebrity-studded Halloween parade. I promised to fund construction of the school’s new driveway for parents to more efficiently chauffeur my esteemed fellow students to and from school. All this I vowed to deliver – when I was President.
I lost that presidential race to Bobby Godinez. It was a painful loss, but an important life lesson. I learned that my voice is a powerful communication tool, and there should be no fear in using it.
I lost that presidential race to Bobby Godinez. It was a painful loss, but an important life lesson.
Heaven help my parents for the hours I made them sit on the couch while I practiced that big campaign speech: energy and emphasis, rhythm and pace, intonation, and body language. Looking back, I felt safe to fail in front of my parents, my first audience. In that safe practice environment, I learned to give myself the freedom to be vulnerable and fearless. They didn’t mock; they uplifted, coached, and applauded.
The most rewarding moments of my career have involved working closely with leaders to build confidence in their on-stage presence and leadership voice. Breakthroughs happen when we have real conversations about personal insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and even painful memories. In these moments of vulnerability, healing occurs and confidence builds.
Sure, there are easy techniques to improve presentation skills. But true confidence – a fifth-grade fearlessness – happens when we feel safe to fail, and when we practice until we’re confident.
Next time you’re preparing to speak in front of an audience, channel your inner fifth grader: Know your audience. Believe in your message. Practice in front of someone who believes in you. And, have fun!
President, IABC Orange County