Sometime last year…
It was a normal routine kind of day for me. I was getting prepared to start the long day ahead. As I made my way from the kitchen with my coffee into my bathroom. I set my cup down on the bathroom vanity, as I was looking in the mirror and deciding that I needed to change shirts. The shirt I was wearing was bland and too solid in one color.. which translated to boring. I went back into my closet and replaced it with a blue dress shirt with white dots spread across and around the entire shirt. In reading that description you may be picturing an extremely ugly shirt. I can assure you that is not the case. It is in fact my favorite dress shirt and is unique in design and concept.. in my opinion, anyways.
Moving on, after throwing on my blazer and gathering my belongings. I made my way out the door. This particular day I wouldn’t be commuting straight to the office. I’d be making a stop at Best Prep Academy in North Minneapolis to speak with 8th grade boys/students on the behalf of my employer and Junior Achievement.The agenda to which I was to deliver to these students was already written out and communicated to me weeks prior. The Junior Achievement exercise was intended to teach students how to interview effectively; in addition to teaching the importance of developing an elevator pitch. Ultimately, the exercise is designed and intended to enable students with a sense of confidence in demonstrating competency and well articulated thoughts and responses to questions. When I arrived in the classroom.. it was apparent these students were 8th grade boys. Should I have expected anything more or less? I suppose at the time I might have. Being years removed from Junior High; I must have forgotten that I was once an 8th grader that was selective with when I listened to my instructor and preferred to have fun with my classmates.
As the instructor was speaking with the students about why I was there today. I recall thinking to myself: “I’m not prepared to do this” – these students are going to smell the fear and nervousness. At that moment the instructor said: “All yours Justice” and sat down. At this very moment it was like realizing your training wheels were no longer attached to your bike as a toddler. I snapped out of it and immediately took command of the room. What changed? How did I snap out of the nerve and fear..I think I realized I was there for a reason. My presence was requested but even more importantly. I realized I was once an 8th grader. These students wanted to learn something… and I had the professional and educational experiences to deliver a learning experience that would meet the needs and objectives of the learning material.
I walked them through different techniques and exercises to develop an elevator pitch. Additionally, we simulated a panel interview process. The approach I went with was to have the students line up their desks. I selected 4-5 students to sit on the panel with me (interviewers) and one student to be interviewed (interviewee) at a time. The remaining of the classroom watched as we went through a pre-made script of questions for the interviewee. After the mock interview concluded. The remaining students viewing and listening provided feedback to their classmate and then I’d have them rotate roles. I challenged the students to not only assess their classmates verbally; but to also consider taking a look at their non-verbals. I explained the importance of non-verbal communication.
Why did I go with an interactive approach? It wasn’t planned or expected. However, I knew these students were 8th graders with immeasurable energy; considering their age. It was important to me the content be delivered in a manner that was optimal for their learning experience and my teaching approach. Creating a collaborative and engaging environment was conducive to these students receiving and internalizing the message. I found the approach to be highly effective. This was my first time speaking in front of an audience that I had not been acquainted with prior to… So what did I learn from this experience?
These students taught me the importance of recognizing and acknowledging your audience. You don’t have to know your every single person in your audience. However, it’s important to have a feel for how the message you’re delivering relates to your audience. Understanding this helped ensure my confidence existed with my subject matter expertise. Most importantly to be me – no one is going to be you better than you.
Fast forward to this past week…
I had been presented with the opportunity to speak in Chicago surrounding my subject matter expertise with what i do for work.. Interestingly enough, I went through the same pre-trials of nervousness and had justified in my mind that speaking in front of a classroom of 8th graders and experienced adults was different. Just hours before my time to speak. I attended a keynote and the speaker was Vala Afshar; Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. He said something that resonated with me a great deal
“I thought I knew a lot until I learned a little” – Vala Afshar
When it was time to present/speak. I did just that. I thought back to my experiences with those 8th grade students. Standing on the stage and looking out to my audience.. I realized everyone in attendance was once an 8th grader and these now experienced adults were in attendance to hear me share my experiences in relation to a topic they are passionate about. It was up to me to deliver an experience that was engaging and informative. Post my presentation.. I received great positive and uplifting feedback regarding my comfort and confidence while up on stage speaking.
Where we grow is often in a place that is outside of our comfort zone. Embracing that simple understanding is when we can truly realize our potential.
If you’re ever presented with an opportunity to share a message, teach someone, share something on a stage or in a classroom. Take it. Learn from the experience and grow from it. I learned from 8th grade boys that being me was enough.