One of the greatest blessings in doing what I do is having the ability to travel—seeing places and most importantly, learning from the different cultures I come across. Humankind is so rich in our diversity; there is so much to learn.
In the UAE (United Arab Emirates), the Emirati women have only been in the professional workplace in recent decades. Through the vision, courage and encouragement of the nation’s leaders, they are hungry for education and are eagerly signing up to earn higher tertiary qualifications.
About two years ago, I was running a program on Communications and Influence for a utilities organisation in Abu Dhabi. One of the activities in this program involved preparing and delivering a short presentation in front of the class.
On the morning of presentation day, one of my female students (I shall call her “Maya”) arrived before everyone else did. She approached me and said “Mr. Siow, I’ve enjoyed your class very much. But I’m afraid I will decline the opportunity to present today.” Asked why, she replied, “I am not a public speaker. I am not a confident person. My English is not very good. I’ve been telling my manager for years that I cannot do this.”
I said, “Maya, I understand. Firstly, your English is absolutely fine. It really is. Anyway, only 7% of communication is in the choice of the words you use. You can express yourself using tonality and your body language. Secondly, the main point of doing the presentation today is not to demonstrate your mastery of the English language; it’s about confidence building. Remember what we’ve learned over the last few days—that the key to being, giving and achieving even more is to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Keep this mantra in mind: “If I can’t, I must; and if I must, I can!” If your only reason for not doing the presentation today is a lack of confidence, then that’s precisely why you must do it.”
Maya was taking all this in and I sensed a real desire in her to break through her feelings of self-doubt. So I said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you feeling right now?”
“Not very, 3 maybe,” she said.
“OK, here’s what you do. Take a deep breath in. Stand the way you do when you’re totally confident. Clench your fists the way you do when you feel unstoppable. And then say out loud and with great conviction, ‘If I can’t, I must; and if I must, I can! (pause) I AM confident. (pause) I AM confident. (pause) I AM CONFIDENCE.’”
She participated in this wholeheartedly. “So how do you feel right now? How confident?”
She had brightened up considerably and said “Very much more.”
“OK, you are third on the list today. When your turn arises, just come up, feeling the way you do right now and deliver your presentation. Remember that you are among friends. Everyone in the audience wants you to succeed as much as you and I do.”
When it was her turn, Maya walked up and delivered her speech. I was so pleased for her. She came across calm, spoke with clarity and even used effective eye contact and a variety of relevant hand gestures. She was so good you really couldn’t tell it was her very first time. She said later that she felt nervous but we were all so caught up in her clear, confident presentation that we did not notice it.
I invited the floor to offer her some feedback about what worked well and what she could do even better the next time. One of the participants was a Scottish gentleman named Glenn. In his spare time, Glenn does theatre—stuff like MacBeth. Eminently qualified to offer quality feedback, he said, “Maya, I have worked with you for several years now. I was blown away by your presentation. I did not know you could do that. That was so good. Your voice and intonation were clear. Great eye contact, use of hand gestures. I cannot wait to see you do that again and next time for real and at work. You have a real talent for this.”
I could see Maya beaming with pride. Receiving such spontaneous encouragement from someone like Glenn obviously meant the world to her. She told us after the next break that during that break, she had dashed back to her cubicle and excitedly committed to her manager that she would deliver the business presentation scheduled for the following week—something she’d previously declined.
In just one moment of courage, Maya broke through her fears and stepped through to a new future. Do you think that one decision could make a difference to the rest of her life?
It reminds me of a quote by Daisaku Ikeda: “Take that first step. Bravely overcoming one small fear gives you the courage to take on the next.”
Remember that all that you need to expand on your potential is already in you. Having supportive people around you helps, but like the genie in the bottle, the potential was always there just waiting to be unleashed. It takes courage. And courage is not the absence of fear. It’s making something else, something bigger and better and more important than that fear. Feel the fear and do it anyway. It’s the surest and only way of overcoming it.
So what is one small but big (i.e., courageous) step that you can take today to move you forward towards your aspirations? Take that step today and remember to celebrate that…no matter what the outcome is.