Don't let this moment define you

Have you ever had one of these experiences while speaking in public?

  • You forgot what you wanted to say and froze on stage.
  • Your computer crashed and you fumbled your way through the presentation.
  • An audience member made a comment that threw you off.
  • You were asked a question that you couldn’t answer and became flustered.
Ryan Speedo Green - Don't let this moment define you

I’ve seen these things happen time and again to speakers. And I’ve experienced these things because each of them—and more—has happened to me.

For example, I was once speaking to approximately 80 communication professionals on the topic of how to communicate effectively. As you might imagine, I felt the pressure of speaking on a topic to a room full of experts.

At one point during my talk, I showed a slide of me with some children in Kenya when I was doing some work there. It’s a picture that I love and that brings back strong emotions from my experience. I used it to demonstrate the difference in effect when one use a small picture in the corner of a slide versus having the picture fill the entire slide.

One woman in the audience took exception to the image and let out an audible groan and rolled her eyes. At that moment, it felt like the room had gone dark except for where she was sitting. For a good 10 seconds or so, she was the only person I could see. And it took me several minutes to regain my composure and get back into the groove.

Yes, public speaking can be scary.

I felt bad about that presentation for a few days, but then I had another event at which I had to speak and things went well. It was a good lesson on the importance of putting bad experiences behind you so that you can move forward.

Embed from Getty Images

I recently came across a much more profound example of this lesson in the story of Ryan Speedo Green. A star baritone in the world of opera, Green sings around the world in four languages. But how he achieved his goal is even more impressive than his voice.

Born into poverty in Virginia, Green lived in a trailer park and low income housing as a child. He had an abusive mother who frequently beat him. One day, he pulled a knife on her and she called the police. Green was sent to a juvenile detention facility where he spent two terrible months, often in solitary confinement. No one could foresee that that troubled young boy would become the thoughtful man in the video below.

No one, that is, except a few people who helped him turn his life around: his teacher, Elizabeth Hughes; Priscilla Piñeiro-Jenkins, a caseworker in the detention centre; and a Virginian psychiatrist.

In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Green was asked what he would say to his 12-year-old self sitting in solitary confinement in that detention centre. He answered:

I would tell him there are trees and sun beyond these walls. … Don’t let this moment define you. I would, in the words of Elizabeth Hughes [say], don’t let this moment define you. This is not the end. This is only a moment in time. And someday it’ll get better. Someday things will get brighter.

Remember Green’s story the next time things go wrong on stage and you feel like you will never give a good speech or presentation again. Things will get better.

Don’t let this moment define you.

Photo credit (first image): TEDxLTHS / Flickr

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5 Replies to “Don't let this moment define you”

  1. Hi John, yes a great phrase and leads me to recall Viktor Frankl when he says that every freedom can be taken away but one; the freedom to choose how to respond.
    Am back to your site. Loved the series on “Make It Stick”. Keep up the good work.
    Cheers Chris

    1. Thanks for the comment, Chris. Glad to have you back!
      Thanks also for the good reminder about Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning is one of the most profound books I have read. I should pick it up again as its wisdom is timeless.

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Testimonials

John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International