Why I’m not afraid to speak in public

Tuesday, June 26th, 2007
A potential client called me this week and asked if I would be interested in delivering an eProductivity seminar to a very large audience in Asia. I told him I was. He seemed most interested to know if I was comfortable speaking to a very large audience - like 5,000-8,000 people. I said that I was and I shared that I had a life-changing event many many years ago that gave me great comfort speaking in front of large audiences. Here's what happened...

When I was young, I lived in Mons, Belgium and attended the Belgian section of L'Ecole Internationale du SHAPE. Through an interesting set of circumstances, I had the opportunity to participate with the American High School in their preparation to attend the Model UN at the The Hague, Netherlands. The  Model United Nations is a wonderful political/government and speech/debate program intended for High School students which culminates in a one-week general assembly of the Model United Nations. For six months to a year, each school prepares by studying all about their assigned country (we were assigned Ethiopia) with the goal of learning all about the political, economical, and social issues affecting their country. They then prepare to serve on the many committees of the UN and to debate the various issues of the day.  (At the time, Ethiopia was being attacked by Somalia.) Approximately 3,000 people attended the event that I went to in 1978 and part of the event was televised across Europe.

Eric's Denim Suit for the Model UN, circa 1978My team chose me to deliver the opening speech for our delegation, which I readily agreed to do. For weeks I rehearsed and I got everything ready. I even got a this suit, my first suit as a young man - a three-piece denim suit. (What can I say? It was 1978 and Disco was cool in Europe. Look at the width of those bell bottom flairs.)  

After months of preparation, our team travelled from our home town of Mons, Belgium to The Hague, Netherlands for the event. During the opening speeches, a representative from each delegation was invited to address the assembly. I was nervous. I also had too much water to drink. Not a good combination. I approached the podium, greeted the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary General of the UN and I prepared to address the audience. Then it happened. I wet my pants. Fortunately, thanks to the dark blue denim, no one noticed. By the grace of God I did not panic, in fact I was actually relaxed. I decided to put everything I had into my delivery of the opening speech.  I lowered and raised my voice for dramatic effect at the appropriate times and I slammed my fist on the podium to get attention or to make a point. But, I never moved from behind the podium. After my allotted 5 minutes, I returned to my delegation to a tremendous round of applause from them, from the UN congress, and from my mom, who had travelled from the United States to watch me speak. I felt wonderful, I had a warm feeling in my heart. I decided that I liked this public speaking thing a lot. In fact, I liked it so much that I've never shied away from a speaking engagement since. I've had many wonderful speaking opportunities in the decades since, but never one as memorable or as life-changing as that one.

While  this could have been an embarrassing moment for me, it was actually a tremendous moment of accomplishment and one I reflect on often. In fact, whenever people ask, "don't you get nervous speaking in public?" I tell them, "why should I? I was nervous once but I got over it quickly..."

I love public speaking and delight in sharing what I've learned with audiences, large and small.

In the past thirty years, I've learned many valuable lessons of public speaking that have served me well; key are to: limit my water intake and visit the men's room before speaking and to always look at my shoes before I walk on stage.

PS.  Unfortunately, other than my certificate of participation and the photo below, I have no photos or recordings of the event. I did, however, manage to find this very faded mimeograph copy of my speech. 19780204_EricsModelUNSpeech.pdf  PDF text transcript

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