Speak from the Heart

Mengzhu Chen reflects on what makes a good speech and how to approach public speaking successfully.

May 2016, a straight on five days of sunshine in London, I felt like a spoiled baby bathing in her hospitality.

I had the opportunity to participate in the 2016 International Public Speaking Competition held by the English-Speaking Union in London this May. Along with other 46 contestants from various parts of the world, we explored the potential of public speaking and the possibility of making a difference through the means of public communication.

I first came in contact with public speaking when I participated in a PCI (Program on Creativity and Innovation, located in the NYU Shanghai Academic Building, Room 900) performance coaching session led by Stern professor Diane Lennard. It was fascinating to me how she was able to grasp our attention for a whole three-hour long session by the power of language, grouped with certain speech techniques. I have always been mesmerized by the art of language: how it transforms the blunt statements into euphemistic remarks; how it transfuses abstract ideas into tangible concretes. And adding the public presentation part to it only magnifies the magic.

I thought a lot about what empowers a speech and what kind of speech would capture the audience’s attention. Is it an ostentatious presenting style? Is it a humorous tone of speech? Is it the graceful bearing coupled with exceptional eloquence? Or is it all just mere formalities that give way to the actual content of the speech?

Public speaking is about a lot of things: effective communication, language manipulation and audience engagement… In fact, I am sure a Google search on good public speaking techniques will produces a fruitful result. However, these are what public speaking means to your audience, not yourself.

Often times, we are too engulfed in the public side of the story that we almost forget whom we are actually speaking for. We pick the most eye-catching topic just to excite the audience. We throw in anecdotes and jokes only to hope that they will stay awake. We engage the audience for the sole purpose of engaging. We work so hard on the public end of the spectrum that we overlook where we began, that is – whom we are speaking for and why we are speaking up.

We are speaking, first and foremost, for ourselves. We speak where our passion lies; we speak for what we believe in; we speak for the change we want to make. One has to care about what one is speaking in order for the speech to be inspiring, because enthusiasm is difficult to fabricate. It must be a passion that is so profoundly rooted deep down inside that it has engendered an impelling desire to share.

The winning speech of the 2016 ESU IPSC was about how Donald Trump’s absurd remarks on Mexican immigrants actually prompts the discussion of legalization of immigration issues, delivered by a Mexican contestant. She did not need the meretricious fashion or the desperate wailing. Her firm belief in her country and in her fellow compatriots flows to the audience through her words, her eyes, her body language. She appeals to the audience by simply by sharing her own passion.

Public speaking is not to for receiving around of applause. It is not about putting on a show and entertaining the audience. It is a means not an end. It is a broadcast through which your voice desires to be heard. It is channel through which the heart speaks what it truly believes.


This article was written by Mengzhu Chen. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Huffington Post

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