Of late I’ve been thinking about public speaking and what motivates me as a parent.
In particular, I’ve been pondering this past week whether my motivation to teach students public speaking, and my motivation to parent, are one and the same.
And I’m inclined to say “Yes”!
Well, actually the art of public speaking is just the “frame” as it were, not the real “portrait”.
What I’m really gunning for is watching my students (and my kids) transform from one level of confidence to another. Like seeds that grow into buds, which then blossom into “fields of gold“! (thanks for the imagery Sting)
That’s the real kicker. The real “portrait”. The real motivation.
To watch young people transform from one level of confidence to another.
And from experience, I can tell you I’ve found no more immediate, visible, and tangible way to witness that transformation with a deep abiding sense of satisfaction, than coaching young people to speak or perform confidently in public.
Then simply to sit back, and watch them do just that!
There’s probably no more common form of public performance in the world than public speaking.
And I’m sure everyone has encountered at least one memorable public speaker in his or her lifetime. In fact, if I were to ask ten people who they think is the best, I’ll likely get at least 20 different answers!
Famous names like Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs, Barrack, and Michelle Obama will likely be bandied about.
Sure. Of course. No arguments there. I’ve enjoyed watching these stellar speakers myself.
Now just to be invited to TED is itself a massive endorsement. The sophisticated and highly professional profile of TED audiences alone is enough to make even the most seasoned of orators tremble in the knees!
But to do so back in 2011 when this young lady was still several years shy of 30?
A Public Speaking Masterclass
Many survey findings show that people are generally more afraid of public speaking than death!
I still remember when I first stood before an audience to perform a story-telling segment in my Grade 3 or 4 class.
Looking at a sea of faces staring right back at you expectantly? That, more than any horror movie, taught a quivering young kid what terror looked like in broad daylight! The butterflies flitting incessantly in my stomach that fateful morning in school, felt like they would morph instantly into prehistoric pterodactyls and swallow me from the inside out!
So I get it. It’s a fearsome place to be, standing in front of an audience to give a speech.
But the truth is, with regular practice, public speaking is one of the best training grounds to build self-confidence.
And Sara Kay is a case in point.
Her outstanding ability to capture the attention of what looks to be an enthralled audience of at least 500 in a jam-packed auditorium bears repeat viewing. So yes, go ahead if you wish to pause here to click on the video above.
I can wait 18 minutes.
Done? Oh, you wanna re-watch? Sure. By all means. I understand perfectly.
So. How was it? An exceptional public speaking masterclass in confidence and composure, right?
It certainly was for me. I never tire of watching it every time I show it in class when teaching the skills and techniques of public speaking. To me, there’s simply no better way of inspiring my students, many of whom were only a few years younger than Sara when she gave that TED talk.
But I also tell my students there’s more to it than meets the eye. I try to take them “behind the curtain” to understand how someone like Sara can get to that level of polish in public oratory in half the time most adults more than twice her age would take (including yours truly)!
Behind the curtain of public speaking
Now some may of course demur and insist that Sara was at that point in 2011 already a seasoned orator on numerous stages. After all, she’s both an early proponent and practitioner of the art of spoken word poetry, and a teacher who’s taught in classrooms of all sizes; from kids to MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) candidates; from “Indiana to India”.
But I can tell you Sara couldn’t have gotten that way without the unwavering support and belief of her parents, who saw early on her love and passion for poetry and theatre. Parents, who gave her every opportunity to develop her interests no matter the cost.
How do I know?
In that same speech, Sara shared how at the tender age of 14 when she discovered the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, her “bewildered but supportive” parents agreed to take her there upon her pleading.
It was where, as the youngest patron and performer, she grew and demonstrated both her passion and prowess in the art of performance poetry. And despite being the youngest by “at least a decade”, she was met at that club of boisterous adults with nothing but encouragement, support, and applause.
Don’t rush past that account ok? Instead, pause a while to consider.
For to have every person’s worse fear (public speaking) tamed and turned, over many weeks/months/years, into Sara’s tour de force performance on that world stage in 2011, is a salute to her parents’ years of behind-the-curtain love and support.
Not to mention those creative and kind adults she met at the Bowery Poetry Club.
More importantly, Sara’s journey is a testament to how powerful a little support and encouragement can be; to help a fellow young human being blossom from one level of confidence to another.
For me, that’s the real “portrait”.
From one level of confidence to another
Okay, just to be clear, I’ve yet to teach my sons to speak confidently in public since they are still fairly young right now.
But I’ve definitely let them watch me in action before, be it a peek into my classroom as I conduct lessons, or when I am giving parenting talks at public events.
One of the things I know for sure as a parent is that the world outside our doors is one that pays a lot of attention to those who can carry themselves well on a stage.
So it’s a skill that’s certainly worth cultivating.
Yet, the more important learning is the increased self-confidence to weather the storms of life that afflict us all. And what parent wouldn’t want their children to grow up prepared to handle come-what-may right? To see that their flesh and blood can take on the world with increasing mastery and confidence.
Yep, that’s certainly the motivation for me.
And though I don’t yet know how to use my public speaking training of young adults to help my pre-teen boys move from one confidence level to another, the thought of seeing them stand up to the realities and challenges of life unflinching?
That’s definitely my motivation as a parent.
That, and an archived video of Sara Kay’s traffic-stopping performance.
So if you ever get to read this Sara, thanks lots for motivating this teacher, this parent! And the many others, including my students, who’ve watched you and been swept away by your passion and prowess.