This is a blog about eloquence, so of course it begins with a tale of ineloquence.
I stepped onstage to deliver the first major public address of my life. The incineration of spotlights above and the admiration of 600 eyes below scorched me.
I was five.
As the rep of my class at the Kindergarten Graduation, the monumental importance of the speech did not elude me, and I stood at the podium with gravitas.
Well... actually, I stood on a high stool behind the podium. I was so short that I needed a stool to be barely visible over the podium.
Nevertheless I knew my speech would be historical. And it was.
To my knowledge, I'm the only kid in the history of Garden City Kindergarten to have tumbled off the stage in the middle of a graduation address.
Yes, I physically fell off the stage.
In that scratchy 80's videotape, my little head vanished with a bang. Nobody had checked whether the stool was stable, but everyone was laughing at the result.
And so began my fear of public speaking, a fear that more humiliations would keep well-nourished.
But here's the thing... Back then, the little five year-old me did something I would never do again in the face of public embarrassment:
The little me got up, righted the stool, stepped back on and finished the speech.
No flinching. No complaining. No crying.
Never again would I be able to do that. I grew up and learned to fear embarrassment, to fear judgment, and to fear the searing limelight... I learned to sit down and pipe down.
But I also learned what can happen when people do get up and speak up... what can happen when brave men and women speak up with heart, eloquence and persuasive power. No, not popping sales and bloating profits; the world has enough of that. What can happen is students inspired to learn and grow; citizens united to take down dictatorships; and humans mobilized to fight climate change and injustice...
The power of persuasion and eloquence can change the world for the better.
So after all these years, I'm getting back up to the podium. And I hope you get up with me, no matter how many times you've fallen badly.
Let's together explore the dark arts of persuasion, and how it can light up the world.
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