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Volume 15, Number 5
In this issue:
We welcome you to commencement season in schools and universities alike. Congratulations to all the graduates—and the families—of the class of 2016. Now, so we don’t miss out on too much more of summer, here’s our May Digest, a collection of graduation-address wisdom and a TED-talker who, at first glance, is the opposite of what we were expecting.
The Power of Inauthenticity
“Hi, I’m George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents.”
George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander on Seinfeld, approaching an unknown woman at the local diner, having decided that—since he was always making the wrong decisions—he would do the OPPOSITE of everything he had tried previously.
As a regular reader of Speaker’s Digest, you no doubt have read about the level of importance we place on simply letting yourself be your real, authentic self when addressing an audience. “Trust yourself to be yourself” is a mantra often spoken in our video room during a workshop.
So it was both with curiosity and a bit of surprise that we watched a TED talk by Mark Bowden called: “Presentation Skills and the Importance of Being Inauthentic.”
That’s inauthentic, as in the OPPOSITE of being real and authentic. Ironic, right? We had to watch to see what he was talking about. So we did. Believe it or not, we liked what he had to say. And truth-be-told, it wasn’t exactly the opposite of our philosophy here at EMS.
Bowden says that at a core level, our brain stem gives us messages—every time we meet someone—that place the person into one of four categories: possible friend; possible enemy; possible romantic partner (a few laughs here); or indifferent.
He then goes into depth on each category, bringing in plenty of examples from the animal kingdom and from our cave-dweller days to help us understand the phenomenon of how our brains respond to meeting someone new.
Bowden says that, by and large, our default reaction to a new person is indifference. We don’t really care either way. Think of that next time you walk into a room full of people—how many of them do you plan to walk up to and hug?
By smiling, raising our eyebrows (he calls it ‘eyebrow flashing’) and opening our arms wide when approaching people in our daily lives, we move ourselves in the eyes of others from indifferent to potential friend. We do this despite what our default mechanisms tell us, which is to be closed, moody and detached—in short, indifferent.
Now, let’s assume that you’ll be speaking to that same room full of people, most of whom are indifferent to YOU. In order to get across to them, to get them to listen to you, you really need to convince them that you are a potential friend. How do you do that? By practicing some of the Fundamentals of Public Speaking: make eye connection, use facial expressions, and make big, open, welcoming gestures. But doing this means going against our natural instincts, Bowdon tell us. It requires us to ACT and PERFORM, two actions that are technically INAUTHENTIC for most of us who wander this earth. Like George Costanza, it’s the opposite of what we typically do.
You see, Bowden’s message isn’t really that different from ours. The style you use should uniquely fit who you are. But you have to use attention-getting tools to warm up your audience in the first place, to make the right first impression to get them on your side. His presentation is definitely worth a twenty-minute break to watch with a few colleagues. Afterward, spend some time discussing how to incorporate these lessons on a daily basis. Watch Mark Bowden’s TED Talk by clicking here.
Alexander Hamilton and the Year in Commencement Addresses
“Kids, you didn’t hear this from me, but if a cop even thinks that you’re going to throw up in their back seat, they will immediately let you go.”
Actor and Tufts University alum Hank Azaria, in the voice of The Simpsons character Chief Wiggums, speaking to the Tufts graduating class of 2016
Graduation season means a new crop of fascinating commencement addresses given by politicians, business leaders, actors and directors, coaches, athletes and even famous scientists. And since nothing on the Internet ever really goes away, it’s easy to quickly find many commencement addresses from previous years at universities around the world.
The 2016 batch of addresses is not yet over—there’s still time to catch Matt Damon addressing the graduates at MIT, James Franco at Cornell, Ken Burns at Stanford, and even Seth Meyers here in Evanston at Northwestern—go Wildcats!
Our favorite speaker so far this year has been Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Broadway author, composer and actor currently appearing in the wildly-successful Hamilton, his unlikely musical about the colonial statesman Alexander Hamilton—he of the $20 bill. (Everyone’s singing it—even Eliot’s son Noah learned one of the numbers from the show for a recent audition.)
Last year, Miranda gave the graduation address at his alma-mater, Wesleyan University, from where he had graduated in 2002. This year, he spoke to graduates at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where the subject of his current musical made his greatest impact when the city was our nation’s capital. Early in his speech, he notes learning that the only known utterance of a curse word by George Washington—“his only f-bomb ever!”— took place in Pennsylvania.
Lin-Manuel Miranda gets our attention early by letting students know that he understands what happens in college, noting that “You’re a top-ranked party school—you KNOW you did things this week that you’re never mentioning again!”
Throughout, he shares with “my dear terrified graduates” the power of stories—the power of living them and sharing them. He does this by telling some stories from his life (including one in which his mother’s back specialist admonishes him: “You’ll have to learn to survive pain if you want to be any kind of artist!”) But what’s exciting is how he encourages students to look to the future as an ongoing creative process, encouraging them to embrace all of the adventures and journeys ahead, telling them that “the stories—in which you figure out who you really are—are essential.” When he signs off by telling the students “I can’t wait to see how it all turns out,” he gets a huge and well-deserved ovation. Here’s a link to his address at Penn
“Life is like the Star Wars movies. Some of it is great, some of it stinks, but you have no choice but to sit through all of it.”
Azaria again at Tufts, this time as The Simpsons character Comic Book Guy
Now let’s have a little fun. This first list contains 12 actual quotes from commencement speakers at university ceremonies around the U.S. this year The second list, in a non-corresponding order, contains a list of speakers, along with the schools at which they spoke. Your task, young whipper-snappers, is to see how well you can match the quote to the person. There may be prizes—we haven’t decided yet. You have ten minutes to complete your work…startiiiiing… NOW!
A. I truly believe that when people live with head and heart in harmony, then that’s when we attain our true human potential.
B. It’s time for you to display your heart, to find teams, to go for it and to expect great things.
C. Success, however small, however incomplete, success is still success.
D. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it.
E. You can hashtag all over Instagram and Twitter, but those social media movements will disappear faster than a Snapchat if you’re not also registered to vote.
F. When life tells you no, ask yourself honestly: What am I capable of? And once you know the answer, don't be afraid to let everyone else know it, too.
G. Every stumble is not a fall, and every fall does not mean failure.
H. Binding together our larger community means extending the principles of respect and understanding to people and communities who hold different beliefs.
I. Don’t be so focused on your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected.
J. Let’s put it this way: I know of no Nobel Prize winner who has stopped studying.
K. When you find your passion, it’s yours, not what someone else thinks it should be.
L. It’s up to the graduating classes of 2016 to make a better world for the 99 percent.
1. President Barack Obama, at University of Rutgers
2. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, at Jewish Theological Seminary
3. Dame Jane Goodall, renowned anthropologist, at University of Redlands
4. Film Director Spike Lee, at Johns Hopkins University
5. NFL Quarterback Russell Wilson, at University of Wisconsin-Madison
6. First Lady Michelle Obama, at Jackson State University
7. Producer and Actor Oprah Winfrey, at Johnson C. State University
8. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, at Duke University
9. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, at University of Michigan
10. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, at University of California-Berkeley
11. Senator Elizabeth Warren, at Bridgewater State University
12. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, at High Point University
Answers: A-3, B-8, C-1, D-10, E-6, F-5, G-7, H-2, I-11, J-9, K-12, L-4
Is there another favorite quote that we should have added to the list? Drop us a note and we’ll include it next month. Thanks for reading!
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