“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.“
Delivering speeches and presentations, used to be a simple task for me. My goals were as modest as my skills. I just wanted to get myself up in front of the audience and back again to my seat without doing anything terribly embarrassing. Speaking was a thing to be survived; if possible with most of my dignity intact.
In time, however, and with a lot of practice, the terror passed. I began to focus my energy on my message, rather than my own discomfort. I learned to structure my thoughts for clarity, to enunciate my words and project my voice and to calm my body and use it to reinforce my words. Clearly delivering the message became the goal of my speaking.
But soon, my aspirations went beyond that. Just saying the words became as unsatisfying as a Hollywood air kiss. I wanted my words to be remembered. I wanted them to have a lasting impact. So I studied how great speakers used the pitch, pace and volume of their voices to emphasize the key elements of their message, how they used rhythm and pause to isolate a single word or idea. I watched how great stage actors use their bodies and the stage space to deepen the impact of the message and their facial expressions and gestures to add layers of meaning. I scrutinized ad copy and commercial jingles to deduce the secrets of crafting a message that would catch people’s interest and attention and burn itself deep into their memories. Speaking became a matter of skill and stagecraft for me.
Technical speaking skills are something I will never master completely. There is always something more to learn, some new technique to explore. But much like reaching the top of a mountain ridge, only to discover that there is yet another, higher ridge beyond it, achieving a certain level of technical competence at the podium has merely shown me that a higher level awaits me.
The most powerful speeches I have heard have not been the ones that were technically the best. They were the ones that tapped into my own experiences and values to reveal truths that moved me emotionally, caused me to reconsider my most fundamental beliefs or revealed profound spiritual or intellectual lessons to me. They were the ones that had not just a clear message, but a meaning that mattered.
They were the ones that had me nodding my head, saying “Wow, that’s true”, not because the speaker had convinced me, but because he or she had put into clear and simple words the thoughts and feelings that were already lurking in my own head or conclusions that I hadn’t yet codified.
The skills and techniques of effective speaking are important, but they are merely the tools we use. It’s the meaning of our words and the simple purpose to which we put them, that matters.
I’m still searching for those right words to express the simple truths I have within me, and one day I will find them.