I recently had the good fortune of working with a number of teenagers to help them with their public speaking and presentation skills for leadership roles that they have in their youth group. It’s always great to see young people who are interested in public speaking and willing to take the plunge to share their ideas with others.
As I was preparing the workshop, I came across a wonderful performance by poet Taylor Mali. I have long been a fan of Mali and have previously written about him. I love the way in which he weaves words together and the passion with which he speaks.
I showed this video to the teenagers with whom I was working. They loved it.
Mali’s poem is great for young people, but it’s not just for young people. It’s for all of us. When we stand up to give that speech or make that presentation, we had better speak with conviction. Because if we don’t have confidence in our own words, why should our audiences have confidence in us? If we don’t believe in the message that we are conveying, how can we hope to move others to action?
In order to speak with conviction, we have to know our material; we have to believe in the rightness of our message; and we have to be prepared to take the risk that people might not agree with us. As Seth Godin said in a recent post,
If you’re hyper-aware of what others are thinking, if you’re looking for criticism, the unhappy audience member and the guy who didn’t get the joke, you will always find what you’re seeking.
For it to be any other way, you’d either have to be invisible or performing for a totally homogeneous audience. Invisible is an option, of course. You can lay low, not speak up and make no difference to anyone. That’s sort of like dividing by zero, though. You’ll get no criticism, but no delight either.
As for finding a homogeneous audience, good luck with that. The one thing that’s true of all people is that they are different from one another. What delights one enrages the other.
Part of the deal.
So, like Taylor Mali, “I implore you, I entreat you and I challenge you to speak with conviction. To say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it. Because contrary to the wisdom of the bumper sticker, it is not enough these days to simply question authority—you’ve got to speak with it too.”