Okay. I have been thinking about this post for a really long time. I’ve been speaking to audiences since I started ARFE, and now, as I’m working with ShelterBox, I speak at least once a week. And in January I gave one of the most important speeches of my life.

At first, this post was going to be very simple: I love public speaking! And then I was going to say a few words on why and all of that. But I let it roll around in my head a little bit more, and percolate (burble, burble) a bit longer, and then, on Tuesday evening, as Jim and I were watching The Biggest Loser, I had a brainfart: this is not just about public speaking, and why I love it. It is about all the things it can do for you, and how good it can make you feel.

I know, that sounds insane. Isn’t public speaking  one of the most common phobias, or something like that? I’m going to tell you briefly why it shouldn’t be.

1. You are speaking about something you care about.

Even if you’re terrified of public speaking, the fact that you’re talking about something personally meaningful to you is a huge boost. Take advantage of it. If you aren’t speaking about something you feel invested in, get someone else to do it. Really.

2. You know your audience.

This sometimes has to be accomplished on the fly. If you walk into a room and it’s all stern-looking suits, make sure you speak  their language. Likewise if it’s a bunch of college students who’ve just rolled out of bed.

Many speaking engagements are preceded by a meal of sorts, or at least some lag time. Get there early, and use the time wisely: Observe the people at the table; mingle; get to know the people in the room. Ask questions about the group. Engage from the first minute. And, for God’s sake, do your research. Take every advantage you can.

Learn to read body language. Reading people on the fly is immensely useful.

3. You are a role model while you are speaking.

At the very least, you are an expert on your topic. This is an incredibly powerful idea. For 45 minutes, or whatever, you are the end-all, be-all of the reason people are in the room. Use this knowledge!

4. You can only be yourself.

No one is asking you to be anyone else. Be casual. People came to see you. Surely, that’s worth something. Big public-speaking gaffes, like inappropriate jokes, or drinking so much prior to said speech that you’re woozy and slurring, happen because you’re nervous. Little public-speaking gaffes, like too many “ums” or “y’knows” happen because you’re nervous. Don’t be. It’s OK.

OK. So now back to the Biggest Loser. They do this thing on the show where, at some point during the season, they make it so that each contestant has an opportunity to become a role model. Last season they did it twice: once they made the contestants go round getting people to participate in a Biggest-Loser-led exercise class on the Washington Mall, and, later in the season, they had the contestants speak on what it’s like to find motivation for losing weight. They had them tell their own stories, in short.

And I think every contestant suddenly felt, after watching everyone applaud and give standing ovation after standing ovation, that they were worthy of something.

How precious is that?

At a recent ShelterBox event at East Woods School


  1. YiShun, great to read something from you. I love your writing style and I agree with you 100%. Hope life is NYC is good.

  2. Great advice, YiShun — and the post was inspirational. (I clicked here from LinkedIn). I know its such an old term, but you are truly a Renaissance woman. AND I love that the photo you posted was where you spoke to kids. Great stuff.

  3. @colin: yes. i try to bring sprocket with me to these things as illustration, but he doesn’t like to go in either my pack or the ShelterBox. @soup: HI!! So nice to see you here! @Linda: aw, shucks. Thanks for reading, missy. xoxo

  4. I agree Yishun, I think that’s why I am still teaching the craft classes after all these years(and plenty of nonsense to deal with doing it, long stupid story). It’s one of the few places I feel like people actually listen to me. It makes you also realize, you better have integrity and be very wise with whatever comes out of your mouth because people are in fact listening! 🙂

  5. thanks for reading, Amalia, and for the comment, too! you’re absolutely right: someone is always listening. that’s potentially terrifying, but also deeply gratifying, don’t you think? 🙂

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