Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sonia the Supreme

For a moment, forget about which political party you belong to; forget whether you're a man or a woman; and forget whether or not you will be supporting Sonia Sotomayor's nomination as the next Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, click on the URL below for a video clip from today's New York Times and join me to celebrate 7 minutes of 'presence personified'. You can move the slider to the beginning of her remarks at 11:35 if you don't have time to hear President Obama's introduction.

Here is a woman who came from the humblest of beginnings but who is now being nominated to the highest court in the land. An honor, as she reminded us, beyond her wildest imagination.

What I found particularly striking and instructive for all who are called upon to speak in public was her unassuming yet masterful ownership of an incredibly difficult stage. She confessed to being nervous (and who wouldn't be under the circumstances). In spite of her understandable speaker anxiety though, she talked to the audience calmly and confidently, showing a wonderfully understated command of her message and her emotions.

The good news - Judge Sotomayor provided an outstanding example for the rest of us to follow when we're put on the spot in front of an audience. A few areas to focus on when watching:

  • She had notes but used them sparingly. I'm guessing they consisted of 'thought triggers' rather than a speech written out in prose. In any case, she spent most of her time up and engaged with her audience.
  • She had magnificent pace. I never heard her rush and her slow pace lent strength and power to her words. It made her words seem considered, thoughtful and significant.
  • She punched specific words with her voice and this made them all the more impactful for our ears. She elevated certain words above others making them paramount.
  • She had a level head and set her feet while speaking. These two factors helped her radiate confidence by focusing her physical energy in the audience's direction.
  • She wore a simple yet striking outfit using contrasting primary colors to frame our attention on her face.
  • She spoke from the three places every great speaker talks from - her head, her heart and her soul.
  • She matched her message to the historic opportunity by speaking about a moment in time where her personal history meshed with the country's.
  • She projected enormous power, albeit in a very modest way, even though she shared the stage with a man viewed by many as a speaker for the ages.

Some may think that what Judge Sotomayor did today on that stage was easy. I think not. To climb to the pinnacle of success in the blinding spotlight of the White House and the national media and still manage to maintain your calm, your poise and your presence is incredible. Moments like this would make many a man or woman shake with fear and lose their voice, their message and their cool.

The great news - what Judge Sotomayor did as a speaker today on that stage is something we can all do as speakers with a little bit of planning, preparation and practice.

Does being an Appellate Court judge help - absolutely. But don't let that stop you. You can get there (as a public speaker) if you put in the work.

I used to suggest to people that they watch John Roberts in his confirmation hearings in the Senate when he was nominated to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I'm sure I will be watching Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings as well. They both 'own their stage' and give us all a great model of how to communicate in difficult circumstances while projecting quiet and humble 'here I am' strength.

Judge Sotomayor, you rocked the house! This time it was the White House.

Bravo. Thanks for showing us all how it's done.

P.S. Next time remember to brush that wisp of hair off your face. Your eyes are hugely expressive. We need to see both of them.

1 comment:

  1. Andy,

    great analysis and thanks for sharing! Lots of learnings to take away! I love that you see down to every detail -- including the wisp of hair on her face. You will always be my presentation skills coach extraordinaire! Love your blog! Hope all is well!

    Jodi Garner