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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Reflection on Public Speaking

As Session #5 approached on the calendar, I felt an increasing sense of dread. Session #5 would be mostly focused on building presentation skills and practice. Public speaking, even in the smallest of groups  - including simply being called on to speak in class throughout my entire academic career - made my heart race, my body shake, and my voice tremble. I hated speaking in front of others, and always preferred to communicate my thoughts in writing.

I was surprised to find that Session #5 would turn out to be my favorite Emerging Leaders session. It was certainly one of the most useful to me personally, as it helped me venture outside of my comfort zone and bolster a professional skill of mine that needed work. And it was also wonderful to hear my fellow Emerging Leaders speak, learn more about the work they do, and recognize how talented they all are.

Our guest for the day, speaker coach and consultant Jezra Kaye, was wonderful in facilitating a productive session. Not only did we have to give our prepared remarks, but she also put us on the spot to give impromptu instant speeches beforehand, which helped break the ice. While this was all nerve-wracking, everyone’s critical and positive feedback was so helpful. It also made me realize that I wasn’t as terrible at public speaking as I originally perceived myself to be, which has been very comforting.

That all being said, I’d like to share 3 key takeaways from that session that I think will help anyone who struggles with speaking in front of others:

1. Use an instant speech to communicate thoughts efficiently. Jezra shared the idea of an “instant speech” with us:
  • Start with an objective key message
  • Craft 3 sentences/points that support the key message
  • Reiterate the objective key message

I must admit that I thought this process would over-simplify conversations at first, but when I saw it in practice, I realized that it made it so much easier to listen and absorb the points people were trying to communicate. It is certainly hard to come up with an instant speech on the spot, but I will carry it with me in my toolbox.

2. Be your best self. Jezra also shared the concept of creating a public speaking avatar to help calm the nerves and be our best selves when presenting in front of others. I chose qualities such as, “competent,” “warm,” and “passionate.”

3. Being scared is normal. There is a part of the brain called the amygdala that is triggered when it comes to public speaking for many people. Feelings of “fright, flight, and freeze” can overcome the body when it feels it is in danger. While it seems like common sense, the antidote to this is to be aware of what you bring to the table (in mind, body, mission, and personality), to prepare, and of course, to practice!


In closing, I am posting this several days after our last Emerging Leaders session. I am still in awe of everything we have learned and accomplished together as a cohort. I am so grateful for everyone who made this program possible, our wonderful facilitator, Yael, and all of my fellow Emerging Leaders. This experience has changed my life and I will carry it with me not only in my career, but in personal growth as well.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I am truly "emerging" as a "leader"!

I have attended 7 sessions of the Emerging Leaders program, and the impact of these seven days will last a lifetime.  I remember rushing to get to the first session in lower Manhattan on a Sunday morning from my home in Westchester. It was a rough commute and I was depleted after hosting my daughter’s fifth birthday party (which had a hip hop danced theme) the previous day.  As I waited for a much delayed 1 train, I was uncertain about adding a new commitment to a very full plate of a working mother of two little ones.  Ten minutes into the first session, I knew that applying for Emerging Leaders was one of the best career decisions I have ever made. 

I was able to immerse myself in a community of open and kind young professionals who were struggling with similar issues in their nonprofit careers. During each session our bond grew closer as we tackled difficult topics and revealed personal stories. Yael is an amazing facilitator who guided us on the often tiring journey of self reflection. We explored a host of questions: Who am I? What are my strengths? How do others perceive me? What kind of leader do I want to be? How can I strengthen my weaknesses? What do I do with my Myers Briggs results? I like to work collaboratively; can that be detrimental to my success as a leader?  What can I do to compensate?  Through peer coaching exercises and group discussions, we were able to take time from our busy and demanding lives to truly think about ourselves in a safe environment. 

On the eve of my final session in the Emerging Leaders program I want to take the time to thank everyone involved including the Emerging Leaders staff, Yael, the speakers, my amazing fellows, and my supervisor for supporting this very important opportunity.  I truly feel like I am "emerging" from this program as a leader and a better person. In the January issue of O magazine, Oprah said “people often pursue a life or journey that doesn’t belong to them”. We have to learn our own path, by taking the time to learn about ourselves and making choices that “enhance the spirit” rather than “drain our power”.   Every CEO and Executive Director told a similar story the fellows –  no path to success is direct. You can only find the right path with missteps, understanding your behaviors and learning about yourself in relation to others.  Over the past 7 sessions, I have a better understanding of my own path. I know what sustains and drains me. I know what I need to do to make a difference in the nonprofit field. I will leave the last session with heightened self awareness, a wealth of knowledge, great skills, and great new set friends (who I will keep in touch with for years to come).