Guest Blogger, Gail Blanke
On July 27th, 2004, I was sitting with our daughter, Kate, on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. I was there because I was the speech coach for Senator Bob Graham of Florida who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The floor was packed, the speeches were back to back and at times seemingly endless.
Most of my thoughts were centered on “my guy,” Senator Graham, and waiting for it to be his turn to speak. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, an African American man who looked to be in his early forties, took the stage and everything changed. He began with, “Tonight is a particular honor for me because – let’s face it – my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely…” He “had them at ‘Hello'” as the saying goes. He was electrifying and friendly at the same time. He was warm, funny, urgent and honest. He was there. He didn’t lecture us; his speech was more of a conversation among people committed to the same idea of what “good” could look like.
“Wait, who is this guy?” I said to Kate. “I’m not sure,” she answered, “I wasn’t listening to the intro, I think he’s from Chicago…” After listening hard for a few minutes, I nudged Kate and said, “You want to know what good looks like? That’s it.” “I know…” she answered, without taking her eyes off him. He was unforgettable.
Barack Obama’s speech that day in Boston became the stuff of legends – and is regarded as one of the great political statements of the 21st century. Of course, work, life, politics – not to mention being president – takes its toll. And every speech can’t be the stuff of legends. But last Tuesday night in the President’s State of the Union speech, for my money, he was back. LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and senior writer for ESPN, wrote, “Wait, didn’t the Democrats lose in November?…Yet, there he was. Confident. Emboldened. Optimistic.” At one point he looked out at the audience and ad-libbed, “This is good news, people!”
So what can we learn from this? How can we – using whatever opportunities we have – speak so people listen? How can we spark optimism – regardless of how tough the times are – to inspire people to take heart – and take action? Well, most of us don’t have an hour on prime time television and a staff of writers and advisors to ensure we knock it out of the park. But every now and then – in our work, maybe in our lives – we get a shot…to be unforgettable.
One of my all-time favorite clients is New York-Presbyterian Hospital, widely considered not only one of the biggest, but one of the very best hospitals in the country. Every January, NYP holds a “Kick-Off” event in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria to celebrate all the people who work there and strive every single day to make the “care and caring” they provide their patients as good as it gets – anywhere. It’s nothing short of thrilling. The ballroom is filled to the rafters with passionate, proud, totally committed people who simply wouldn’t work anywhere else. But in the end, it’s all about the patients. Every year a few patients who had been treated at the hospital are invited to the event to tell their powerful stories of courage, resilience – and frequently against all the odds – healing, recovery…even life. The patients, most of whom have never spoken in public before, stand at a podium, facing a packed house of over a thousand people, to describe in roughly three minutes, their experiences. Frequently there are tears – not just from the patients but from the audience members. No one ever leaves that ballroom the same way they arrived…
My job is to “coach” the patients; to enable them to let go of their (understandable) stage fright and actually embrace the limelight – and this year’s kick-off will be no different. Here are the few, simple steps I’ll be sharing with them. Not surprisingly, they’re not all that different from some of the President’s techniques…
1. Assume the best. Walk up to the podium anticipating that the audience will love you – and your story. If you’ve got a “power song,” (you know, that song that just does it for you), sing it to yourself! You can change the energy in any room just by the way you walk into it.
2. Love the audience. Great speaking – like great acting – is about…love. If you love your audience they’ll feel it. And they’ll love you right back.
3. Shift your attention from yourself – “How’m I doing?” “Do they like me?” “How do I look?” “Have I messed up yet?” – to your audience. Look at them. Connect with them.
4. Treat your talk like an intimate “conversation” with the audience, not a “speech!” Watch for their responses. Maybe it’s a smile, or a nod. Smile and nod back.
5. Let go! Let go of thinking you have to be perfect. Let go of the fear of “making a mistake.” In the end “perfect” speeches are forgettable. People who care enough to pause and search for the right word, who blurt out something honest and urgent (“This is good news, people!”) is what connects with an audience…and sticks with them.
6. Enjoy yourself! If you do, your audience will, too.
Maybe this week you’ll get a shot to be…unforgettable. Take it. Here’s the thing: People only know what you show them. So show them your stuff. Give them the full monty. Put it out there – your idea, your solution, your talent, your humor, your heart…your song.
We need more good, unforgettable people out there. Why wouldn’t it be you?
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns © 2015 All Rights Reserved.
Gail Blanke is founder, president, and chief executive officer of Lifedesigns, LLC, a company whose vision is to empower men and women worldwide to live truly exceptional lives. Her weekly blog is Monday Morning Motivator. For more information, please visit her website.