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10 Unforgettable Lessons From 2014 Graduation Speeches

10 Unforgettable Lessons From 2014 Graduation Speeches
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Wisdom is timeless. We never get too old to hear it, learn it, or benefit from it.

While not all of us are graduating from college this year, it’s safe to say we are all graduating from something in our lives. Whether it’s old habits, homes, jobs, or even parenting, we’re all graduates to some degree. (No pun intended.) So why let new college grads hog all the wisdom? The following quotes highlight poignant life lessons we can all learn from the 2014 graduation speeches.

1. Bill Nye: Knowledge can be acquired anywhere.

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t. Respect their knowledge and learn from them.”

These were the words of Bill Nye, who gave this year’s commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Considering the source of this lesson (everyone’s favorite brainy scientist), it’s safe to say it is true. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. The world is filled with infinite diversity, perspectives, and unique experiences. When you meet someone you don’t like, challenge yourself to learn something from them.

2. Charlie Day: The most fulfilling things in life come with risk.

“You cannot succeed without this risk of failure, you cannot have a voice without the risk of criticism, and you cannot love without the risk of loss.”

While you may not have expected the quirky, illiterate janitor from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia to share wisdom, Charlie Day delivered this brilliant advice to Merrimack College’s graduating class. Day also spoke about fear and acting in spite of it. The driving point of his speech was to not let fear become a barrier.

3. Bill Gates: Optimism is not irrational.

“Optimism is often dismissed as false hope. But there is also false hopelessness.”

Bill Gates spoke these words at Stanford University’s 2014 Commencement. After a heart-breaking account of his trip to a diseased and poverty-stricken town in Africa, Gates confidently gave this advice and spoke about the importance of innovation. Optimism is not naive, and sometimes hopelessness can be an irrationally negative perspective.

4. Peyton Manning: Being a beginner is not a weakness.

“When you are chided for your naïveté—and you will be—remind your critics that an amateur built the ark and experts built the Titanic.”

Peyton Manning delivered this clever remark at the University of Virginia. Echoing the theme of Bill Gate’s quote, Manning is saying to disregard the naysayers, while maintaining faith in your own innovative ideas. He went on to talk about being a newbie, and how it doesn’t eliminate you from being able to contribute value. Well said.

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5. Jim Carrey: Choices are made from love or fear.

“The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality.”

Of course there were plenty of jokes in Jim Carrey’s commencement speech, but this was one of his most notable statements at the Maharishi University of Management in Iowa. “Fear disguised as practicality” is the key phrase. How many of us live our lives this way, avoiding certain dreams because they “just couldn’t happen?”

6. Rainn Wilson: Happiness doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

“Happiness is so fleeting — it’s like cotton candy. It looks amazing, delightful, fluffy and pink. You joyously eat it and almost immediately regret your decision. Your fingers are sticky, you’re undergoing an insulin crash from the half-pound of sugar you just sucked down, and you’re hungry again almost immediately. In this me-me-me culture, focus on yourself and you will find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others and you will find joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia.”

The delightfully quirky Rainn Wilson gave this advice at the University of Southern California. Comparing fleeting happiness to blood sugar swings is a pretty genius way of saying “don’t fall for the hype.” Personal possessions, money, or other self-focused versions of happiness are about as reliable as cotton candy for a diabetic. And in case you were wondering, eudaimonia is basically Greek for happiness. (I had to look it up.)

7. Melinda Gates: Hardship spawns our greatest efforts.

“If you want to do the most, you have to see the worst.”

These are Melinda Gates painfully truthful words, spoken at Stanford University’s graduation ceremony. After telling a personal story of interacting with poor AIDS victims in hospice, Mrs. Gates extracted the positive, much like her husband did in his speech. There’s nothing more motivating than hardship – especially witnessing the hardship of others.

8. Marc Benioff: The secret to life? Give stuff away.

“The real joy in life comes from giving. It comes from service. It comes from doing things for other people. That is what is so powerful about this. Nothing will make you happier than giving.”

Although these are probably not the words you’d expect from a CEO, Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, said just that at the University of Southern California. Coming from someone with wealth and a successful business, this says a lot. You can feel the certainty in his words – he’s been around the block and wealth isn’t everything.

9. John Legend: You can’t be happy with yourself if you’re not even being yourself.

“Soul is about authenticity. Soul is about finding the things in your life that are real and pure. The things that are at your core. The things you know you were put on this earth to do.”

Ask a soul singer the meaning of soul, and you might regret it hours later, when they’re still talking and philosophizing. Luckily, musician John Legend kept it concise at the 2014 University of Pennsylvania. This speaks to the idea that everyone “belongs” somewhere. Everyone has a passion, gift, knack, or whatever you want to label it. Maybe you already have an inkling as to what your’s is.

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10. Parker Mantell: Doubt is more of a setback than actual setbacks.

“Doubt, as has been observed, kills more dreams than failure ever will. Yet if doubt were a disease, its cure would be confidence.”

You probably haven’t heard of Parker Mantell, as he’s not famous. He is, however, the inspiring student who gave the 2014 graduation speech at Indiana University (which is now going viral). Mantell had the courage to give this epic speech despite his stuttering problem, an obstacle he mentioned during the speech.

We can all circumnavigate our failures and setbacks in one way or another, but doubt is pervasive. It will eat up any motivation we have, limiting our potential until we silence it.

Featured photo credit: thatericalper via thatericalper.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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