There were at least two memorable moments in the world of public speaking this month that occurred within 48 hours of each other, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast. Both speakers took big risks to get their message across, and those risks made their speeches particularly memorable.
The first, in Sacramento, came from Vivek Ranadivé, owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. His city had experienced a crisis—earlier in the week, Sacramento police shot and killed 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who had been unarmed. A swarm of protesters marched on the capital for a rally, then marched to the Golden 1 Center, where a game between the Kings and the Golden State Warriors was scheduled to take place. Protesters locked arms in front of the arena, keeping many ticket holders away, and the game was played in front of about 2,400 fans, just a fraction of the crowd expected.
Ranadivé knew they had to play the game, but he also knew that this was not business as usual. Immediately after the game, he gathered the Kings’ players and staff at center court, picked up a microphone, and spoke to those in the arena and following the game on radio and TV. It was an emotionally charged moment, and he spoke from his heart to a hushed crowd.
First, he thanked everyone for their patience. He acknowledged the “horrific tragedy in our community” and the rights of the protesters. Then he recognized the powerful platform that he and his organization have, and vowed that “we will work together to make the world a better place, starting with our own community.”
No notes, no scripts, just a brief, meaningful, authentic connection for a man who spoke from his heart.
The second powerful moment also involved a protest. It happened in Washington D.C as Emma Gonzales, perhaps the most visible of the Parkland shooting survivors and “March for Our Lives” organizers, spoke to a crowd estimated at close to 500,000 people. Emma, a high school student, showed us the strength of a pause—the longest pause any of us had ever seen in a speech like this.
Emma was the closer—the last to speak at this event, one of 800 marches that took place around the country. (Eliot and his family were at the march in Chicago, where we also heard some powerful presentations!) She said a few words, then spoke briefly about each of the 17 people who were killed at her high school on February 14. Then she was silent. For about four minutes, with her face looking right into cameras, her image blown up on giant video screens and on TV screens across the world, she remained silent. As she teared up, the crowd joined her in silence, though a few emotional outcries of support broke out along the way.
When she broke her loud and seemingly endless silence, Emma told us that just over six minutes had elapsed since she took the stage, approximately the amount of time that the shooter at her high school needed to cause chaos and murder 17 of her classmates.
Then Emma walked off the stage. People on social media referred to the speech as emotional, powerful, even mind-blowing. One community leader referred to it as “one of the most remarkable political moments I’ve seen.”
Wow. Pauses can be powerful!