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Saturday, March 10

Speaking your heart out

As you get ready to walk up and take stage, your hands get moist, your feet give out that strange sensation of standing on top of a 100 story building, suddenly you need to go to loo, your throat is dry, your heart is going to stop. The place is not even well lighted but you feel all the spotlight on your face, as words come out you cannot even remember to breath and then you take one deep breath and ...

... you either loose it or you flow.

In my 14-15 odd years of public speaking, I have gone through this numerous times and I have been on both sides of the line. I have screwed it all up and I have taken the day. But what has not changed is the thrill, that rush of Adrenalin. Yes, like a drug addict, small doses don't satisfy the craving that much now and with the college life gone, even those small doses don't come my way any longer.

I realized this a few days ago that I have hardly stood up to speak in the last 2 and a half years since leaving college and that realization has reignited the craving. So much so that I am looking forward to my 2-3 class project presentations coming up later this semester. However, I am also a little skeptical. The audience I will have here would be so different from anything I have had before. Would I be able to connect to them? Would I be able to command all the nuances of English to bear upon my points as I used to in Hindi or let's say Hinglish? What about his tricky thing called sense of humor, do I even have one in context of Americans? And just how would I make up for all the cultural references which just became out of bounds?

Challenges are many. Perhaps this is the next stage of evolution for me as a speaker, moving from a frog in a small pond to the whole new world. Now I can choose to become a cautious, methodical and a won't-screw-up kind of speaker after whose talk people clap and mumble and forget. Or I can still try to go all out, speak from my heart and try to connect.

Of course I will screw up at times if I choose to be later but would that really matter? I am suddenly reminded of a very good example in this context. In 2005, Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford. I received its text from some friend and was so delighted that I really wished if I could have been there to actually listen to it. Some months later, I discovered its video on youtube and after 2-3 minutes into it, I was so disgusted that I left it in between. Those powerful words that seemed so inspiring then actually look so hollow now that I can't even bring myself to read them again.

It is a speech that draws heavily from Steve's own life, beautifully joining the dots as he himself calls it. It is a speech that has to come directly from heart. And when you look at the video, you see a Steve Jobs standing there, reading it out from paper, not even looking up for half of the time and words which have so much emotions in them are just falling out like some dry stones. I was shocked but this was the first time I was listening to him so I gave him benefit of doubt. I decided to check out his keynotes in apple conferences to see if this is his normal talking style. But lo and behold ! there is the same Steve Jobs striding across the big stage, with a huge screen in the background, no paper in hand and you can see the passion, the enthusiasm now.

I don't know what to conclude about Jobs from this but what I know is that I never ever want to give a speech like that commencement speech to anyone. I think he ruined their day though somehow I saw all of them feeling very happy and cheering him. Perhaps he has too much money and is too successful for these things to matter or perhaps this is the cultural difference that I talked about earlier.

I just hope that honesty and passion would cut across these barriers.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the contrary, I found that video pretty good. Had he made it melodramatic, or passionate (to quote your words), it would have lost its charm. It has got to do with the cultural difference that you pointed. People from India, tend to be very pseudo-emotional, very conscious about things, how would they look while presenting etc.. And thats the growing phase. When u actually grow up (forget abt reaching Jobs' level), these speeches are just another thing. You needn't be conscious abt them say, from the beginning of the sem itself :) just be normal and deliver it on the fly, and prevent from trying to be passionate, and look funny.. after all any body hardly cares..

abhaya said...

First thing, when I say passionate, I mean passionate, I do not mean melodramatic. The same "grown up" Steve Jobs has given all the keynotes that I feel are passionate. I don't know if they look melodramatic to you.

Second, this post is not about the emotional maturity of various cultures, so I won't reply to your generalizations but I will surely take exception.

Third, if you have always spoken to people who "hardly care..", I think you have wasted a lot of your time. On second thoughts, looking at the kind of things you had to say, you probably deserved it.

Saroj Thakur said...

Culture may have some bearing on the way a person tries to reach out to others but by and large as long as human element is there all cultures have some unversal elements and emotional contenet is one of them. There is nothing like being "pseudo emotional" in Indians.
By the way can you send me the link of the video, just curious as I teach Communication Skills and am an Indian! :)