She said these two words, tilted her head a little, gave a knowing nod, and smiled.
After a while she said it again: “I am.”
And then… a pause.
Well, a long pause.
Wait, this is silence.
Now here’s the thing about silence. Especially when it comes to public speaking.
They are tricky.
They can make you nervous.
They can feel like a waste of time.
An error in judgment.
Poor thing, must have forgotten the speech!
So to do a favour as a co-speaker on the same stage, I thought of sharing her burden as an act of charity. I sat there and got nervous on behalf of her and started hetting the chills down my spine, clammy palms, and all those familiar feelings we toastmasters are familiar with.
I stole a glance at her again. Clearly, her nerves were of steel.
He smile only widened with every passing moment, and her gaze shifted from one face in the audience to another, then another.
“I am,” I heard her say a third time, and break into a grin.
Is she mad?
“Does that make you uncomfortable,” I heard her ask.
“Does that make you uncomfortable?
By now I was seriously looking at the Emcee waiting for her to call 100.
I looked into her face carefully. She sported a pony tail, and a steady smile.
Which told me she hasn’t forgotten her speech.
In fact, it seemed she knew more than she spoke.
“Do you think my sentence, it is incomplete?” she now held the gaze steady on the first row audience. I saw their eyes sparkle. They seemed to have got it.
“How do you complete that sentence, what do you say: I am a woman, a mother, a wife, a vice president, a teacher?” She coaxed us on: “Who are you?”
Well, it was only now that it dawned on me.
Of that question.
Of that realisation.
As a toastmaster I have long memorised that magic equation. AN average human being speaks 100-120 words a minute which leaves you with 600 words as a safety net for your contest entry, and 700 at a stretch. In those many words you got to tell your life’s story, personal anecdote, inspire, perspire, despair. Even crack a joke or two to get the audience on your side. And leave them with takeaway. Check, check, check.
You know what?
That calculation, it’s a trap.
I tell you today, don’t fall for it again.
I understand why we do that.
Of course, the greatest fear is of public speaking.
That we’ll forget our speech?
That we’ll stop in the middle and not know what to say?
That we’ll go silent?
Here I ask you now:
What if you win over that fear?
What if you make friend skiwth success?
Hold its hand and take it with you up the mantel?
Sit with it? Smile?
What if you let silence sit at the heart of your speech?
Have you ever thought of the immense energy that is a silence?
Have you explored it enough, toyed with it, used it like a sword that cuts through the crowd and cacophony that is such that often, like water, you search silence?
I tell you, give it a chance.
Forget that 700 words. It is not a race of who says most. It is an experience, who takes you there. To your inside. Deeper. Fast. Best.
And often, silence is the only car that flies.
In that zone.
Mozart had said: “The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between.”
And you’d agree – he knew a thing or two about music. About art.
Public speaking too is a form of art, like music, only if we know to play it well.
Here’s a tip: Tune your speeches with success.
And when it starts to get uncomfortable, know: “I am” is a perfectly complete sentence on its own.
It is uncomfortable, yes, yet complete.
With meaning and experience.
Just, like silence.
Through age and time, stories made way through all this time.
From the age of hunter gatherers to the agricultural, then to the industrial age when people worked alongside machines and eventually to the age of knowledge workers when turn by turn, they could delegate the manual jobs off to the machines. And now to realize how we’re knocking on the age of wisdom, almost.
This time it almost took a leap with the internet. The world, it became an oyster.
Our voices amplified by the web far beyond our vocal cords, our ideas igniting possibilities that can change the very way we thought for so long.
Yet to realise how, as we glided through these phases, we left parts of our systems stuck behind at times.
Our definitions of wealth and wellness, our pursuits of the unknown that is future, our validation of success, these often times got sticky. Our education systems often times struggled, struggles, to match up to the future that will be our work and health, and being.
At times we needed to move faster forward than our minds would carry us, at other times we’d just need to look backwards and onwards to learn
from the wisdom that is in the ancient within us.
Storytelling falls in the second category.
To realise how the ritual of storytelling evolved yet stuck, held our hands steadfast all the way since those ancient times, through history, and how it continues to shape us till this day, especially as we witness a global shift in consciousness right in these current times, is a reckoning.
As babies, we had stories put us to sleep much before we learned the ropes of language and relationships. As toddlers, stories taught us early emotions: fire to fear, vegetables to love, mishaps to stay clear from. Whoever told stories, we trusted. Growing up, stories helped us navigate, build alibis, create excuses. Stories taught us right from wrong, moralities and lessons, causes and effects.
In schools, we learned better with stories.
The teachers who we liked, we liked the way they taught we stories, what we could do in life with their lessons. We chose life, what we could become, by stories painted.
Stories often however showed us but parts of an elephant – a trunk there, a tusk here. Our ideas of life and success therefore came to us in parts. Our perspectives cut corners and folded themselves up in neat boxers. Following the industrial setting out parents had seen for themselves, their way to prepare us for life was only as good and as far as they could see. And in that picture, life measured in numbers. Often!
Now, the times are changing.
In boardrooms, stories are quickly taking over the bar diagrams & pie charts.
Only until yesterday we had heard, said and concurred that the future, it belongs to self-starters and entrepreneurs.
But look around now!
Look at the world that is going to be.
And what we can do to brace up for it.
As uncertain and volatile the times may be, we realise effective communication & powerful storytelling will take the center stage and sit at the very core of what we’d function with. These are skills that are emerging to be crucial forces in anything we want to do at any stage in our lives, and in every role we’d play as individuals, in family and community, and in our careers in the corporate or in entrepreneurial journeys.
Now suddenly we know better than that. It is almost an epiphany of sorts, and we have suddenly been woken up from a slumber that was our definition of life and success. For now, as we know, it is not as much about success as it is about experience, this life!
The future today, it belongs to storytellers and change-makers and thought-leaders.
It belongs to those who ask questions,
It is ruled by those who tell stories.
Than the rest.
As authenticity and whole being become essential to our personal and social journeys, stories are becoming our bridge to the rest of world.
How can we speak emotions and vulnerability on public platforms? How can we use stories for influence and personal signature? How can we put across our messages in a way that sticks, lingers and matters? How can we infuse passion and direction into the dry numbers in our business talks?
These, more than many other skills, are fueling and powering the very process of growth today.
And why our single individual lives, just?
Stories are shaping culture, influencing how and what we think, what we want to become.
A new culture, a new day.
A new world.
If not now, when?
If not you, who?
Tell us your story.
At LIGHTHOUSE with the model of storytelling, change-making and thought-leadership, I help people to become better at whatever they want to be, and build skills towards their vision.
In the intensive program on “Mastering the Art & Craft of Powerful Storytelling,” I’ll teach how we can find and chisel the words we speak, how we can use and sharpen our voice, access, body, hand and eyes which do as much the talking. How we can use pause, in spoken words. How we can overcome fear, derive joy and create a legacy with our storytelling.
If this interests you or if you know anyone who’ll be interested, please send me a note using this form: https://forms.gle/AngnZyDjcb1dy1an8