Dr. Martin Luther King speaking against war in Vietnam, St. Paul Campus, University of Minnesota. CC licensed image by Flickr user Minnesota Historical Society.
I recently heard a friend speak at a school related event. He spoke with authenticity, carefully providing some meaningful advice on life and personal growth, to a room of young students, with parents and teachers listening in as well. He spoke in a low register, with a quiet, assured voice. He paused before making key statements, allowing the silence to permeate the room and guide understanding. He spoke in the comfort of his own unique personality and paid careful attention to the words he chose. He spoke from the heart. His speech related to graduating elementary school, growing from children into aspiring young adults and being grateful for family. He described some of his personal moments and feelings about parenthood, about what is feels like to hold your little newborn baby in your arms and, about the dedication of a parent to try everything possible just to see their child giggle. He spoke to the students about integrity, about doing good and showing gratitude to their parents and family. The room was silent. He had a captive audience. I, along with many other students, parents, and teachers held our breath, some even holding back tears. He spoke authentically, intently, powerfully. We were undoubtedly moved by his words.
Speech has the power to influence, to move, to catalyze into action, for better or for worse. The spoken words of such figures as Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Socrates, Winston Churchill and many other great leaders of the past, have had the power to influence societies and people’s thoughts for generations. Check out this site, which lists their picks for the 35 greatest speeches in history. In our day-to-day life, the words of the people we surround ourselves with and the words we hear in the media, can uplift us or bring us down, can open our minds to new, inspiring ideas or can taint us with unproductive, upsetting thoughts. I used to love public speaking throughout my childhood and youth (and still do) and participated in many public speaking competitions and speaking events (i.e., MC’ing ceremonies and the like). Now, as a teacher I also speak in front of large groups of impressionable young people everyday and on occasion, to groups of adults as well. I realize now, more than ever, what a privilege it is to be given the opportunity to speak in front of a listening audience–to be trusted and respected to share my ideas and be heard by others. In fact, whether speaking in front of a large or small audience, or even one-on-one with anyone, every opportunity to speak and have a willing listener on the other end is a gift. I am grateful for these moments and will try my best to say ‘thank-you for listening’ more often now. :)
Our own speech is one of our main tools for conveying our thoughts and portraying who we are–it provides a window into part of our inner world. I once read that “Speech is the edge of thinking” (my apologies, but I don’t have the reference for this phrase). However, before becoming a influential speaker, we must be an even better listener. Continue reading