Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 274) – Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Mokokoma Mokhonoana – South African Author, Graphic Designer and Social Critic

“Nothing complements a fast mind better than a slow tongue. And nothing aggravates a slow mind better than a fast tongue.”

— Mokokoma Mokhonoana

Photo courtesy of Mokokoma Mokhonoana
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Something Just Like This

I recently had the privilege of moderating the 9th WAVE (Women’s Added Value in the Economy) Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s an annual event organized and run by the dynamic women of the Career Women’s Forum.

The theme for the conference was “Reinvent yourself. Innovate your career!” It was a privilege to moderate the event. The organizing committee was superb, the panelists were engaging and insightful, and the audience of almost 300 was enthusiastic. You can find the entire program here if you are interested.

During the dinner / cocktail party that followed, I spoke with several people, one of whom was a young woman who was just embarking on her career. At some point, the conversation turned to public speaking.

She said that she would like to be able to give speeches, but that she wasn’t a good speaker. I reminded her of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: “All the great speakers were bad speakers at first.” If you look at the top right of this page, you will see that Emerson’s quote is the tagline for this blog. That’s because I believe that public speaking is a skill that anyone can learn if they are willing to make an effort.

The young woman agreed that she should work at improving her speaking. But then she raised another issue. “I’m not Superwoman. I don’t have anything dramatic to say. I haven’t had any amazing accomplishments that people would be interested in hearing about.”

In response, I told her that she almost certainly did have things of interest to share; she just didn’t see them as such. I also told her that one does not have to have experienced profound, life-altering events in order to be able to make an impact with an audience. A lot of wisdeom can be gleaned from the most common events.

Indeed, at the very end of the panel discussion at the WAVE Conference, Sofia de Meyer, one of my panelists, told a simple story that made a big impact. Sofia is the inspiring co-founder of Opaline, a producer of fine Swiss juices that has been recognized for its ethical and environmentally friendly approach to business.

Sofia talked about a time when she was running late to catch a train. She could not find an empty parking space at the station and so backed her car into a tight corner, prepared to take the risk that it would be ticketed or towed. But she just had to be on that train. A woman who was passing by commented on her skill at parking. Sofia responded with a smile and explained her situation. The other woman, who had private parking at the parking lot, then said that she would move her car so that Sofia could take her spot and not worry about being fined.

The message of the story had to do with going through life being open to, supportive of and grateful for other people. And the audience absolutely loved it. It’s the perfect example of how something so simple can make such a difference to others.

Yesterday, this idea was reinforced in my mind. I was at the gym when Something Just Like This, the song by The Chainsmokers and Coldplay came on the radio. I like the tune and as I listened to the lyrics, this idea of not having to be Superman or Superwoman in order to make an impact came back to me.

I’ve been reading books of old
The legends and the myths
Achilles and his gold
Hercules and his gifts
Spiderman’s control
And Batman with his fists
And clearly I don’t see myself upon that list

She said, where’d you wanna go?
How much you wanna risk?
I’m not looking for somebody
With some superhuman gifts
Some superhero
Some fairytale bliss
Just something I can turn to
Somebody I can miss

I want something just like this
I want something just like this

If you are Superman or Superwoman, that’s great. But it’s not necessary. What we want is someone whom we can turn to, someone who will be there for us, someone who will share a little something of himself or herself. If you’re prepared to do that, if you’re prepared to take that risk, if you’re prepared to be that person, we are more than willing to listen.

As Steve Martin, one of my comedy heroes, says in the introduction to his Masterclass on stand-up comedy (and his words are 100% relevant for public speakers):

Remember, you are a thought machine. Everything you see, hear, experience is usable. Whatever makes you unique as a performer, do it. And know that there’s room for you.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 273) – Jim Harvey

Jim Harvey – English Public Speaker, Managing Director of The Message Business and Co-founder of Presentation Guru

“If you don’t understand what the audience wants, you can’t be relevant. If you can’t be relevant, you won’t be interesting. If you aren’t interesting, you won’t be heard. If you’re not heard, you’ll be forgotten. If you’re forgotten, you’re done.”

— Jim Harvey

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What happens when a speaker pauses for a few seconds?

First, let’s talk about what doesn’t happen.

    • The audience does not think that you’ve forgotten something.
    • The audience does not hear your heart beating.
    • The audience does not think that you are stupid.
    • The audience does not think that you are a bad speaker.
    • The audience does not think that your speech is over.

So what does happen?

    • You look composed and confident.
    • Your ethos (credibility) is enhanced.
    • The audience has time to think about what you’ve just said.
    • The audience focuses on you.
    • The audience is engaged.

All things considered, I’d say that learning how to pause when you speak, and becoming comfortable with the silence, is something worth doing … wouldn’t you?

Photo courtesy of Robert Scoble on Flickr
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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 272) – Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900) Irish Writer

“When both a speaker and an audience are confused, the speech is profound.”

— Oscar Wilde

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